Comment 3 of 230, added on December 11th, 2005 at 5:30 PM.
Emily Dickinson’s poem “There’s a certain Slant of light,” is definitely
one of her heaviest works, meaning that it deals extensively with the
concept and realization of the inevitability of death. The speaker in this
poem is someone who is extremely close to death. The proximity of the
speaker to death lends validity to the views that they express in the poem.
It also gives him/her a unique perspective, a type of hindsight that only
those whose lives’ wither away receive. When I read this poem, I imagine
the words barley escaping the lips of an old wrinkled man who is lying on
his deathbed, contentedly waiting for Death to come end his torment. He
feels no pain, only intense weariness. While he takes his last breaths, he
is speaking to a small boy. The man tells the boy of “a certain Slant of
light,” that enters his room, and how that light led him to realize the
futile importance of human life. The message conveyed through this poem,
this man’s last words, is that one’s life is lived completely on borrowed
time. The price of this borrowed time is being forced to exist for
eternity knowing what it was like to live, and missing every second of it.
Only you can make that borrowed time worth its price.
The vivid images are found in the first and last stanzas. One peculiar
thing about the images in the first stanza is that they are synaesthetic.
This means that an image commonly associated with one is described in terms
of another. The “Slant of light” that gives the poem its name, isn’t
described as bright, or dull, or with any other visual descriptors. It is
described as oppressive “like the Heft | Of Cathedral Tunes—“. Something
that “oppresses” is commonly something of extreme weight, and light has
hardly any weight. This slant of light is also compared to the weight and
sadness of cathedral tunes. Since all of these descriptors are extremely
uncharacteristic of light, light must be a very important symbol. I
believe that light is symbolic of life, and that the rest of the poem is
only an extended metaphor, describing life through contrast with death.
The first line of the second stanza presents the reader with a paradoxical
statement: “Heavenly Hurt”. This means that the pain and hurt that light
(life) brings are truly heavenly in that they create actual life from
simple existence. On the next line, Dickinson goes on to write that “We
find no scar”, from the “Heavenly Hurt”. From this it becomes apparent
that the “Heavenly Hurt” is only the psychological pain of life. The second
half of the second stanza simply reinforce the idea of the importance that
psychological pain holds in life. In the third stanza “None may teach
it—Any—“ implies the supremacy of life. Life is presented now as
omniscient. When this realization if made, light becomes synonymous with
God as well as life. The idea of light as God is reinforced in the last
stanza: “when it comes the Landscape listens—“. Only a truly supreme being
could control nature, and make nature take note of it. And then, when the
light, life, God, leaves, all that is left is death: “When it goes, ‘tis
like the Distance | On the look of Death—“.
The first four lines of the poem alternate between 7 and 5 syllables. Of
the 24 syllables in the first stanza, the odd-numbered syllables are
stressed, while the even-numbered syllables are unstressed. This means
that the 7-syllable lines begin and end on stressed syllables, and the
5-syllable lines begin and end on unstressed syllables. A line ending on a
stressed syllable creates a sense of tension, and a line ending on an
unstressed syllable gives a sort of relaxation. When lines of both types
are paired as in this poem, the first line (ending in a stressed syllable)
seems incomplete, and is made whole by the second line (ending in an
unstressed syllable). This is the ‘standard’ structure for the stanzas of
The second stanza has the same arrangement of 7- and 5-syllable lines as
the first stanza, but there is a change in the pattern of stressed and
unstressed syllables. The first line begins with two stressed syllables,
and then alternates between stressed and unstressed syllables. The second,
third and fourth lines all begin and end with stressed syllables. This
slight change in the stanza structure serves to build tension, and the
tension serves to foreshadow a more radical change in the stanza structure.
The first line of the third stanza has six syllables, the second line has
five syllables, the third line has eight, and the fourth line five. The
first line is in iambic trimeter, and the third line is in iambic
tetrameter. This means that they both begin on stressed syllables and end
on unstressed syllables, which gives them a sense of calmness. The second
and fourth lines both begin and end on stressed syllables. This weird and
unstable stanza is the halfway point in the radical stanza structure
The fourth stanza completes the change, and brings the stanzas back to a
more regular form. The first and third lines are written in perfect iambic
tetrameter. The second and fourth lines are the same as the second and
fourth lines in every stanza of the poem: five syllables, alternating
between stressed and unstressed, and ending on stressed. These
five-syllable lines were the one constant throughout the entire poem.
These lines are connected to the order of nature. Since they carry through
the entire poem at regular intervals, we can assume that the theme of the
poem (life vs. death) is ordinary from the point of view of nature. The
first and third lines in each stanza are only the same in the first stanza
and the last stanza. In between, they are constantly changing. These
lines are tied in with the human element of the poem. In the first stanza,
the “living” stanza, the first and third lines are the same because humans
view life as a normal state. In the second and third stanzas, the “dieing”
stanzas, the first and third lines are different to show that humans
believe that sickness is abnormal. In the fourth stanza, the “dead”
stanza, the first and third lines are the same, but not the same as in the
first stanza. This points out that humans see death as natural, but that
it isn’t natural in the same way that life is.
The rhyme scheme of the poem is almost as free in form as the meter. Only
the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme. Remember, these lines
are the lines that are associated with nature. This gives the regularity
of nature a kind of beauty. The irregular lines (the first and third of
each stanza) don’t rhyme. These are the lines that represent mankind. The
lack of rhyme in these lines enhances the randomness and lunacy of the
“There’s a Slant of light,” would fit into the genre of American music
developed and refined by Bob Dylan. Particularly, I would have expected to
find a song titled “There’s a Slant of light,” on the album Blonde on
Blonde, due to the surrealism of the songs that were on that album. Much
of Bob Dylan’s music had a fairly irregular meter, so this poem would be
characteristic of his style.
The primary emotions evoked by this poem are sober sadness, and a certain
sense of respect. The speaker is dieing, which brings the sense of
sadness. Yet, at the same time, despite the speaker’s impending death, he
is trying to share what he has learned of life with whoever will listen.
This brings the feeling of respect.
from United States