Archive for January 18, 2010

There’s a certain slant of light

Posted in Poetry with tags , on January 18, 2010 by telescoper

Once again I haven’t had time to put together anything of much significance for the old blog today so, as usual when this happens, I’ll cheat by posting a poem. I picked this one for its wintry and appropriately melancholic theme; it is by the great American poet Emily Dickinson. I bought a collection of her poems in a very cheap edition in a bookshop in the States many years ago, but have never really managed to figure many of them out. I gather she features much more regularly in Eng. Lit. classes on the other side of the Atlantic than over here in Britain, and its probably my foreigner status that makes me find her poems so difficult.

This a very famous example of her work. At one level it expresses the unsettling effect that changes in light can have on the human psyche, but that’s just the start. The deeper meanings elude me, except that it is probably to do with the poet’s uncomfortable relationship with organized religion.  At least when she was young,  Emily Dickinson was a devotee of the Transcendentalist movement, which saw human experience, Nature and God as aspects of a transcendent unity. The  view expressed in this poem is certainly nothing like that. This is a fractured, lonely world where Nature and God are both alien and oppressive influences.

The strange use of punctuation and capitalization is also very typical.

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 —