There’s A Certain Slant of Light
There’s certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
of cathedral tunes.
Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the meanings are
None may teach it anything,
‘Tis the seal, despair,
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the air,
When it comes, landscape listens
Shadows hold their breath;
When it goes, ‘it is like the distance
on the look of death.
Summary: The poem is about the slant rays of light in a winter afternoon. The situation presented in the poem is that of a speaker contemplating the death-like winter afternoon. She is reminded of her own death. The slantness in the light of winter afternoons oppresses the speaker like the grave and heavy cathedral tunes.
The slant of light gives the speaker a heavenly hurt, it is not physical suffering but the suffering of the spirit. She must put up with this suffering because the sources of the suffering are so mysterious and powerful. The focus of nature which inflict pain on man is so powerful that even the landscape shudders at their approaching footsteps and shadows suspend their breath with dread. When they go away, it is like a look of death going away from us.
Stanza Wise Explanation
The season, as well as the time of the day, are suggestive of death. The slant of light on a winter day is given to anthropomorphic qualities. It is oppressive like the sad cathedral tunes. The poet compares the slant rays of the dying day to the melancholy of the cathedral tunes.
Oppresses: Sends a heavy feeling of suffering and pain.
Weight of cathedral tunes: Sad notes of music from the High Mass in a cathedral.
Nature represented by the slant rays of the setting sun in winter is a source of human suffering. Nature causes hurt to human spirit. This clearly reflects the poet’s tragic view of life and dimensions of her despair. The anguish caused by natural forces is not physical but spiritual.
Heavenly hurt: The word ‘heavenly’ suggests that the winter light is symbolic of God. it acts as the agent of God to inflict pain.
We can find no scar: The hurt is internal. It is on the spirit of man where the meaning of things lie.
The air sends an imperial affliction. The word ‘imperial’ implies Emily’s use of ‘air to symbolize God. So, light and air, as agents of God, bring affliction and despair on the spirit of man. None can resist them and none can comprehend their ways.
None can teach it: None can understand the ways of God and nature. They are deceptive.
Imperial affliction: It is like the’heavenly hurt’ ; when it comes the landscape shudders with fear, and shadow suspends their breath. When it goes, it makes little difference. lt still leaves the marks of death.
When it comes: When the light comes with its heavenly hurt,or when the air brings the imperial affliction.
The landscape…..breath: The rest of nature, like the landscape and shadows, trembles with fear.
When it goes….death: When it goes, it is only like a look of death going a little farther from the speaker, that is, it still leaves the speaker pale with lear. The marks of death are left behind.
This poem opens by telling us that there is a certain type of light associated with winter afternoons. The speaker then attempts to capture the ineffable essence of this bleak winter light. It is a light that is likened to the oppressive sound of church bells, and in the next stanza, we learn that it causes ʻHeavenly Hurtʼ. Incredibly, within the opening six lines of the first two stanzas, Dickinson has managed to synthesise a description of this light (and in the process, her depressed state of mind) in terms of the three senses of hearing, sight and touch. It quickly becomes apparent that this light produces a transformation in the speaker.
The poem moves almost imperceptibly from a depiction of the external landscape of a dull winter day to the inner landscape of the soul.
In the second stanza, the speaker posits the notion that the transformation wrought by this ʻHurtʼ is a near-religious one. It comes from heaven and bears a ʻSeal [of] Despairʼ. The use of the word ʻSealʼ may be an allusion by the poet to the Book of Revelation, which speaks of a ʻbook […] sealed with seven sealsʼ. In the speaker’s view, it is something that cannot be taught. It must be experienced for what it is.
An imperial affliction Sent us of the Air
In the final stanza, the speaker conflates the inner and external natures of this experience. It is something that causes the ʻLandscapeʼ to listen and the ʻShadowsʼ to ʻhold their breathʼ. The divisions between what the speaker is feeling and the natural landscape have become blurred and as a the result, the reader is brought closer to understanding the nature of this despair. It is something that harms and frightens the landscape itself. In the final lines of the final quatrain, the landscape holds its breath for some revelation, yet perceives only the ʻlook of Deathʼ.
5. How does the poet associate God with human sufferings?
6 How do the landscape and shadows react in the presence of Death?
7 Describe the theme of death as presented by Emily Dickinson in “There’s A Certain Slant of Light”.
Answer: Refer to Summary
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