There's A Certain Slant of Light - Summary and Analysis

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There's A Certain Slant of light

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons-
The oppresses, like the Heft
O 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, he Landscape listens-
Shadows hold their breath-
When it goes, tis like the Distance
On the look of Death.

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


      The best known of her nature poem is the widely anthologized "There's a certain Slant of light". As are several of Dickinson's best philosophical poems, this one is also related to a moment of seasonal change. It is a poem notable for its simplicity and ache.

      In the first stanza, cathedral tunes that oppress join a mood of depression to the elevating thought of cathedral, and in the second stanza, the paradox bliss with pain. This mixed feeling is precisely suggested by Heavenly Hurt, which connects bliss with pain. The mixed feeling in the third stanza is called the 'Seal Despair', seal referring to the stamped impressive or wax attachment of a king or a government on a document, which guarantees its authenticity, and perhaps referring also to the Biblical seals that open to admit the saved into paradise. In the third stanza, 'imperial affliction' further reinforces this paradox. This phrase continues the imagery of royalty begun by 'seal' and also 'affliction' is a typical Biblical term for suffering that needs the healing of God.

      In the second stanza, 'it refers only to that message, which has now become internalized in the speaker. In the last stanza, 'it is once more the slant of light', now perceived as mysterious. The landscape, symbolic of human perception, listens and shadows, probably symbols of darkened understanding, hold their breath in anticipation of understanding the meaning of the winter light. When the light goes its going resembles either the fading of consciousness in the eyes of dying persons, or the look in the eyes of personified death itself. Because these two lines are so condensed, it is difficult to choose between these two interpretations. Although the light seems to symbolise death at the end of the poem.

      When the light comes in stanza four, the landscape it touches and those who view it come alive, listening and holding their breath in intense concentration on the other world the slant seems to dart out from and invite entrance into. When it goes, that possibility goes with it. The world we inhabit is left for dead as the other world recedes and turns its back.

Critically Analysis

      This poem focuses on the paradoxical light of winter which, instead of brightening the soul, darkens it and threatens the soul's sense of faith. Gloom pervades the poem, and the weight of it is conveyed through the exact rhymes a well as the language itself; oppresses, 'heft', 'Hurt', 'Scar' 'despair', 'affliction' and 'look of death'. But the affliction is not only oppressive, it is also impressive heavenly hurt, and the words 'seal' and 'imperial' lend a majestic, awesome qua to it. The sufferings weighs one down, yet it is also ennobling. The winter like death itself affirms the uniqueness of our humanity at the same time that it threatens take it away through trial and denial.


      With the exception of its last two lines, this poem presents few difficulties in it word choice or grammar. Nevertheless, it shows so much intensity and strangeness of feeling that when most students first read it, they are usually puzzled.

Images and Symbols:

      The imagery of the opening lines and the tone of the poem as a whole suggest that this strange, pale, and somber light can give to the human spirit a feeling of exultation even while it is portending death. A certain slant of winter light conveys as intimation of mortality; it affects an internal difference', / Where the Meanings, are' - The speaker is oppressed by a sense of loss and no new meaning is readily forthcoming. In the last stanza, the imagery ascribed to the landscape is the imagery of human articulation. However, it is the speaker, not the landscape, who listens, the speaker who longs for a word of illumination, of meaning. Instead the light simply goes; the experience is like 'the distance / On the look of Death'. The world is experienced momentarily.

      Without meaning. Speaker and reader alike are precipitated into the unknown. For Dickinson these moments when the world is experienced without meaning are characteristically moments of expanse, and are precipitated by the contemplation of death.

Nature of Sufferings:

      The second stanza tells us that the winter light inflicts a spiritual wound, and the third stanza explains that this suffering cannot be taught, given consolation, or even explanation. The implication is that such suffering is precious as well as painful. Perhaps it also implied that the soul belongs to and will find itself most truly in heaven. However, these final stanzas seem to be more concerned with the deepening of human sensibility in earth.

Attitude Towards Nature:

      In this poem, Dickinson gives expression to the concentrated gloom and Sadness of the skeleton bareness of winter:

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

      Afternoons are always marked by the slanting rays of the sun going down the journey in the west afternoon that the poet speaks of, There is an unusual atmosphere gloom in the slant of light comparable to the heavy, vibrating tunes of the cathedral of High Mass. It brings unspeakable sadness at human predicament although it can be felt only internally and is not related to or consequent upon any physical suffering. It is concerned only with the spirit where the significance of the things perennially lie. Such winter afternoons confirm the authenticity of the despair caused by he winter which man is helpless to change and which man must bear like an affliction sent by God.

      The poem illustrates man's inadequate control over nature and the desperation with which he fights for survival.


      The style of this poem is representative of Dickinson in a meditative mood. The sense impressions employ synesthesia (light and sound are given weight). The 'heavenly hurt', 'seal despair' and 'imperial affliction' turm abstractions for emotions into semi-pictorial metaphors and thereby give a physical feeling to purely internal experiences. The last stanza returns to the physical world but assigns to its personified landscape the feelings of a person who is observing such a scene.

Use of Pluto - Persephone Myth:

      The concluding stanza indirectly employs the Pluto-Persephone Myth. The coming of winter is like the threatening arrival of Pluto who carried off Persephone while she was gathering flowers in the valley of Enna in Sicily. Zeus, at the prayer of Demeter, allowed Persephone to spend six months of the year on earth and the remaining with Pluto. The myth symbolizes the burying of the seed during winter with the look of death on its face and its growth in spring, marking the return of Persephone.

Explanation with Reference to Context:

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

      In these lines, the poetess shows the difference between the earthly / physical and the spiritual hurt. The physical hurt / pain can affect the body and can be cured but the spiritual hurt / pain affects the mind and is incurable. The poet traces the impact of the winter. On the mind of the speaker,

      The winter afternoons can have damaging impact on the mind. There is an unusual atmospheric gloom in the slant of light. It results into heavenly pain which can only be felt internally. It gives us spiritual pain which can not be diagnosed by earthly remedies. The earthly hurt leaves permanent scars on the body but the spiritual hurt cannot damage the body in any way.

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

      This section of the poem deals with the true origin and nature of the heavenly hurt. It further explains the difference between the physical and the spiritual pain. The spiritual pain is related to the mind but the physical pain is related to the body only.

      The poetess shows that the heavenly hurt is beyond human comprehension. It cannot be explained in a logical manner because of its mysterious nature. It is related to the mind and cannot diagnosed in a satisfactory manner. It is a hidden despair which cannot be properly explained or resolved. The heavenly despair has a divine origin and is sent to us by God as a punishment for our earthly mistakes / crimes. No human being can alter the heavenly punishment or defy the Will of God.

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

      This stanza refers to the impact of the slant of light on the earth on its arrival and departure. The intensity of despair is further intensified in the concluding lines of this section of the poem.

      The slant of light seems quite mysterious as it approaches the earth. The landscape, symbolic of human perception, listens; and shadows, possibly symbols of darkened understanding, hold their breath in anticipation of understanding the meaning of the winter light. The landscape seems to have lost its identity which it enjoyed before its arrival. When the light vanishes its departure looks ike the fading of consciousness in the eyes of dying person, or the look in the eyes of personified death itself.


      'Slant' - indirect and not direct. 'Oppressed' - depressed. 'Heavenly hurt' - it is a pain inflicted from heaven. 'Scar' - impression on the body. 'Internal difference' - the pain is not internally located because of spiritual origin. It is unchanged. 'None may teach it' - the despair is beyond human correction. 'Seal Despair' - the pain is hidden and cannot be correctly identified. 'Imperial Affliction' - heavenly pain or hurt.

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