Literary Analysis: Emily Dickinson's "There's a Certain Slant of Light"
The winter sunlight here is a metaphor of despondency.Emily Dickinson's "There's a Certain Slant of Light" was first categorized under the poetess' Nature poems. This analysis reveals a series of images in the poem that function as an objective correlative to her despair. The image of winter adds to the gloom of anguish and even a winter-afternoon cannot bring sunshine into the speaker’s life. The certain slant of light may have connoted a ray of hope. Nevertheless, the idea of winter reinforces the image of despair. The amorphous nature of despair is echoed through the metaphor of light as “a diffused substance that can be apprehended but not grasped.” Winter by itself is a symbol of death and decay. It is as opposed to summer as characterized by sunshine, the joy of living and at once symbolizes the prime of life.
Like the cathedral tunes that forces one to give into religiosity, the slant of light incorrigibly reminded her of her desolation. Both had the power to involuntarily oppress. The perception of vision is transported from the visual to the auditory. From a natural symbol, the speaker transcends to a religious abstraction. The word ’heft’ has two meanings-1) weight 2) significance. The first refers to the grandeur of the cathedral tunes. The second connotes their significance, what religion truly upholds-perseverance in the face of despair. The mingling of the church music and the melancholic atmosphere gives the suggestion of a funeral. The speaker being weighed down by dejection is also suggested by the word ‘heft’.
The poetess then speaks of the ‘Heavenly Hurt’’ that has the slant of light as its antecedent. The adjective ‘heavenly’ is an ambiguous one. It may refer to the ache of paradisiacal elation, as one pertaining to the heavens. Here, it rather functions as an agent, as though the hurt was imposed by ‘Heaven’. This heavenly hurt leaves no scar, it leaves no physical mark. It only creates an ‘internal difference’ that may bring about a change in temperament or understanding. It may be the precursor to a lesson of moral wisdom. The phrase ‘Heavenly Hurt’ fuses divine attribute and mortal reality, abstract cause and physical effect. The alliteration in the phrase serves as an emphasis.
Nothing can match the power of knowledge, or the command of experience. This constitutes the internal difference that nothing else can teach. This difference is the Change that is indubitably sealed and irreversible.
Emily Dickinson has exemplified in her earlier poems that this seal is the typical bridal sign, or the ring by which the beloved is married into an immortal life. This is particularly significant as she led a life characterized by solitude. It is an ‘imperial affliction’; it is regal in its authority. When it comes, an inanimate object (the landscape) listens. Our lifeless reflections, the shadows, gain life as they hold their breath.
When it goes, it is as distant from the thought of death. As, all of us, inexplicably assume that we are far away from death.
© Rukhaya MK 2012
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© 2012 Rukhaya MK