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There's a certain Slant of light -- Emily Dickinson

(Poem #92) There's a certain Slant of light
  There's a certain Slant of light,
  Winter Afternoons--
  That opresses, 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
Dickinson's style is decidedly unusual, and I don't always like it, but
when it works, it works well. The above poem is a nice example, the
unusual construction blending well with the somewhat mystical imagery.
One of the things I especially like about Dickinson's poetry is the
wonderful job she does of capturing images and examining them from
unexpected angles, and the 'slant of light, winter afternoons' is imho one
of her most beautiful. And the final two lines are simply exquisite.


Biographical Notes and Assessment:

Dickinson, Emily

 b. Dec. 10, 1830, Amherst, Mass., U.S.
 d. May 15, 1886, Amherst

 in full EMILY ELIZABETH DICKINSON, American lyric poet who has been called
 "the New England mystic" and who experimented with poetic rhythms and
 rhymes. Almost all her poetry was published posthumously.

Emily began to write verse about 1850, apparently while under the spell of
the poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Brontk and under the tutelage of
Benjamin F. Newton, a young man studying law in her father's office. Only a
handful of her poems can be dated before 1858, when she began to collect
them into small, handsewn booklets.


The poems of the 1850s are fairly conventional in sentiment and form, but
beginning about 1860 they become experimental both in language and prosody,
though they owe much to the metres of the English hymn writer Isaac Watts
and to Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible. Emily's
prevailing poetic form was the quatrain of three iambic feet, a type
described in one of the books by Watts in the family library. She used many
other forms as well, and to even the simpler hymnbook measures she gave
complexity by constantly altering the metrical beat to fit her thought: now
slow, now fast, now hesitant. She broke new ground in her wide use of
off-rhymes, varying from the true in a variety of ways that also helped to
convey her thought and its tensions. In striving for an epigrammatic
conciseness, she stripped her language of superfluous words and saw to it
that those that remained were vivid and exact. She tampered freely with
syntax and liked to place a familiar word in an extraordinary context,
shocking the reader to attention and discovery.


The later 19th century and early years of the 20th century were a poor
period for American poetry; yet (in addition to William Vaughn Moody) two
poets of distinction wrote songs that survived long after scores of minor
poets had been forgotten. One was Southern-born Sidney Lanier, [...]

The other poet was a New Englander, Emily Dickinson. A shy, playful, odd
personality, she allowed practically none of her writings to be published
during her lifetime. Not until 1890, four years after her death, was the
first book of her poems published, to be followed at intervals by other
collections. Later poets were to be influenced by her individual
techniques--use of imperfect, or eye, rhymes, avoidance of regular rhythms,
and a tendency to pack brief stanzas with cryptic meanings. Like Lanier, she
rediscovered the value of conceits for setting forth her thought and
feeling. Such poems as "The Snake," "I Like to See It Lap the Miles," "The
Chariot," "Farther in Summer than the Birds," and "There's a Certain Slant
of Light" represented her unusual talent at its best.

        -- EB

47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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