Saturday, December 22, 2012

Emily Dickinson: "Slant of light"


There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons--
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes--

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us--
We can find no scar,
but internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are--

None may teach it-- Any--
'Tis the Seal Despair--
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air--

When it comes, the Landscape listens--
Shadows-- hold their breath--
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death--

-- Emily Dickinson --
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Thomas H. Johnson, editor

This is one of the poems of Dickinson that I had to reread several times when I first read it, especially the first stanza, which I find one of the most engrossing  stanzas that she has written.   I know that "Slant of light," not from where I live now in Tucson, but in Chicago, where I grew up.  It had been a grey, overcast, dull day and suddenly, just before nightfall, the sun at the western horizon breaks through the clouds and lights all with a strange golden glow that does something to the back of my throat.

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us--
We can find no scar,
but internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are--

I can't explain it, and this rarely, if ever, happens with any other poem, even those most loved by me.  There is some quality to that light that is unique and disquieting.


  1. Thanks for posting Emily Dickinson, Fred. Coincidentally I was reading some of her work today while searching for something else. I mean, you have to stop and read when you come to Dickinson.

    I wonder that she saw so much and seemed to know so much while living mostly as a recluse. Kind of like Jane Austen who observed the world from her own little sphere. Two unique women - magicians with words.

    I hope you and your family, Fred, will have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy Year.

  2. Yvette,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Yes, I also have to stop and read Dickinson whenever I encounter her. There's always something new by her and in her that I find. I have the complete collection of her poetry and haven't even come close to doing anything more than merely dipping into it.

    Good comparison--Austen and Dickinson. I wonder if Agatha Christie had one or both in mind when she created Miss Marple, who understood people everywhere based on her knowledge of the people of her small village.