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 —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem There’s a certain Slant of light,


  1. scratchamo says:

    This poem seems not so much about a particular experience as it is about the mystery of nature itself, the tragic transience of beauty. She loves paradox and irony: “Cathedral tunes” evokes both majestic splendor and whistle-while-you-work. “Heavenly hurt” is a lament that whatever life is, it goes away in the end, and no one escapes the “internal difference”. What she seems to want is for everyone to “get it,” to grasp the perceptual potential of human life in this world.

  2. Jerry Keuter says:

    This poem is about a certain slant of light. Ifyou have never seen the slant of light Emily describes, you cannot understand the poem.If you have, the poem is easy.

  3. jocys karolina says:

    This poem is about her watching a wedding. It hurts her because she has never been married. The pain can not be shown on her physically. ‘But internal difference,Where the meanings are’ her heart ache’s. When she sees love happen it’s like the world stands still ‘When it comes, the Landscape listens —
    Shadows — hold their breath ‘ but when it’s over and the married couple are finished displaying affection publicly it’s depressing to her because she may feel like she will never have that and it’s in the ‘distance’ and it hurts so much because it might never come at all it’s as if ‘the look of death’

  4. frumpo says:

    A feeling of despair when looking on a winter afternoon.

  5. lauren says:

    When you analyze a poem you can’t think about what you want the poem to mean. The entire poem is describing this slant of light. It oppresses and hurts us. The poem is not about hope at all. It is about sadness, an affliction.

  6. Lauren says:

    Ola B is right the slant of light is referring to depression or sadness not hope. The light “hurts” and causes “internal difference”. Dickenson also infers that it is from God by saying it is an “imperial affliction sent us of the air”, and calling it “heavenly hurt”.

  7. tutu says:

    i feel its a sensational poem that came from the heart of the poet.although the poet drifts into a depth of sadness, she is still full of hope..its very inspiring. also the distancing between a person and death reduces and we merges within.

  8. Sarah Reese says:

    In the poem “There’s a certain Slant of light”, Emily Dickinson shows her powerfulness in a poem about hope in one’s life. Dickinson uses the metaphor of ‘Light on winter afternoons’ to show how in the cold depths of winter, there are still the hopes of spring. Just as Emily Dickinson must have some deep personal hope within herself at trying times. This poem leaves me with the impression that Dickinson is, on the surface a very negative person, yet her problems reach deep inside. Dickinson seems to find a little bit of hope in the simplest of forms. Emily Dickinson also seems to be very interested th the thought of death, she needs to find it within herself to accept the truth of death that everybody must face.

  9. Anna says:

    It’s ironic that she would associate oppression with “Cathedral Tunes”. She portrays religious images in a negative light (no pun intended). It’s not just hurt, it’s “Heavenly Hurt”. Diction? I think so.
    Unlike some of you have said, the last stanza, I do not believe she is talking about death. The “it” is still about the “Slant of light”
    Now if you think the light is death, substitude death for “it”. It would read:
    “When death goes, ’tis like the Distance
    On the look of Death-”
    It makes no sense.
    Others have also said that the light signifies hope. I don’t believe that either. It would be very strange to descrive hope as oppressive.

  10. Mark Kimata says:

    In her life Dickinson explains metaphorically that like seasons come and go, there are times when our lives are at joy, or sadness. Depending on how we cope with these indifferences, is how far the light slants. Meaning that however deep the problem is, the more depressed we get about the situation. Once the problem is fixed though, you get a perfectly straight, well light ray of light. This represents hope for us all.

  11. Ola B. says:

    When I first read this poem, it didn’t really click until I read the other postings and then re-read the poem. Only then did I fully grasp what Dickinson was trying to represent. The poem explains how depression affects the human. The slant of light is the depression. The “Cathedral Tunes” are the actual weight the person feels from the depression. But all of this is given to us by God, as shown in the line, “Sent us of the Air–“. Also in the line, “None may teach it…” the reader observes that only God can give us this type of pain and no one else will be able to understand it. This kind of pain leaves an “emotional scar” or an “internal difference”, only one we can see. This actually improves us as a person and helps us deal with more painful experiences.

  12. Audrey F. says:

    Dickinson expresses her perception of what pain is like and goes in deeper by saying that “none may teach it.” This means that depression is unexplainable but is just sent from above. Dickinson refers to life depression or sadness as a “certain slant of light” that weighs heavily on the mind and compares that with “Cathedral tunes.” Other words in the poem also refer to something in the heavens, as she mentions “Heavenly Hurt” and “sent us of the Air.” Depression and sadness are just obstacles everyone must deal within life and unfortunately, they are totally unavoidable. The poem definitely makes me reminisce over times when I have felt “despair,” and “a certain slant of light.”

  13. Katherine Rattanawan says:

    Confusing at first, Emily Dickenson’s “There’s a certain Slant of Light” seems like a poem of depression then recovery. The bleak winter symbolizes the painful trials in which each person must endure and the slant of light sumbolizes the hope in us all.

  14. Alana says:

    The poem “There’s A Certain Slant of Light” by Emily Dickinson is about hope. The light represents the optimism that she has that she can get through any kind of darkness. That hope is expressed in the lines:
    Heavenly Hurt, it gives us
    We can find no scar,
    But internal difference,
    Where the Meanings, are.
    Words she uses, such as Shadows, Despair, and Death, give me the feeling that Ms. Dickinson has experienced some hardships in her life that she has come through with the help of the “light”. Emily Dickinson’s poem is very inspirational. It gives hope to people who have maybe seen some of the things in their lives that she has seen. It lets people know that there is a way through it all.

  15. Amanda says:

    This poem is about the sliver of hope that there is in every situation. No matter how bad things may be at the time, there is always that one little sparkle of light. While reading this poem, it made me reflect on the hard times I have been through and how things always turned out right. The word “scar” in the poem had the most impact. Scars all have stories and when there new, they hurt, but over time they heal and it makes you a little tougher.

  16. Shayla says:

    When I first read the poem “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” I really did not understand it. I had to read it over and over again to get the full understanding of the poem. In this poem, Emily Dickinson is describing a certain light. This light is the light that reaches out to us and takes us from this cold world once we die. Our cold world is represented by the winter afternoons, “There’s a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons–“. In the poem Dickinson describes how Heaven is a beautiful place but it is also a hurtful place because we have to lose our loved ones to it; “Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
    We can find no scar”. This poem is one of Emily Dickinson’s best. It grabs your attention and makes you think about death differently. The “Shadows — hold their breath –” because they will not be shadows anymore once we die but we all have to leave our winter afternoon sometime.

  17. nikki cantrell says:

    To me, this poem is a look inside to depression. In Dickenson’s day there was very little facts known about the mental illness of depression, but its affects are thusly noted. The cause of the speaker’s sadness and pain, i believe, was the death of someone very dear to them. Such a loss can result in feelings of resentment and sorrow at things that were once normal and pleasent to them, because the one they lost will never be with them to enjoy those things again. “Winter Afternoons- That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes-” the light of a winter afternoon is normally a welcomed break from the consant bleakness of the season, but the depressed individual doesn’t see it that way. To them the light mocks them and delivers their “Heavenly Hurt” that leaves no evident “scar” but internally, emotionally, the scars grow in number.

  18. Hai says:

    In this poem, Dickinson is depresses due to a “Slant of light” in “winter afternoon”. She feels said because it it “oppresses” her, and internally hurting her that why she “find no scar”. Also, the dictions that she uses makes it more unbearable for which she deeply in pain.

  19. Lakiva S. says:

    Dickinson expresses that even though people may endure hardships and go through troublesome times, there will always be a guiding light in the end. This certain oppression results with no physical hurt or harm, but it creates depression. It also sends a secluded feeling as its presence is recognized. ” When it comes, the Landscape listens- Shadows-hold their breath- When it goes, ’tis like the Distance On the look of Death-.” When its presence is noticed, no action is made because it will soon pass, to spread sadness somewhere else. This poem represents the times in our life, where it seems like all hope is lost, but it will not last forever.

  20. Yaw A. says:

    Originally, I assumed this poem was about a depressing feeling a few people get during the bleak winter months. Unsurprisingly, my initial idea was horribly off-mark. What this short poem is actually about is depression. To fully convey this theme, Dickinson used winter imagery. An example of such imagery would be the line “There’s a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons”. Because of my lack of a soul, I did not have any meaningful emotional reaction to the poem.

  21. Amber C. says:

    This poem was very confusing at first. Each word was getting me no where near comprehending the poem. After I read some of the comments posted it hit me and I realized that the “slant of light” is hope. I think everyone fears death but the only thing that reassures them is hope. Its like a dark room with a window cracked letting in hope. Dickinson says “None may teach it-any” meaning hope is not taught but learned throughout living.

  22. Sammy Brown says:

    Emily Dickenson’s poem “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” is composed of intense emotional words in her attempt to express the torrent of feelings within her own mind. Ms. Dickinson was trying to shed some “light” on the unknown illness where “we can find no scar, but internal difference.” “Theres a Certain Slant of Light” inspired feelings of sympathy and sorrow within myself for the confusion that Emily was feeling. In our present time there is hardly an illness, mental or physical, that cannot be diagnosed and treated with some sort of medication. Yet Emily Dickenson speaks of “An imperial affliction” that had no name or treatment.

  23. Jacquie says:

    I think the “Certain Slant of Light” is hope. Hope that one day we may see or know something more of death than pain and loss of loved ones. I think Dickinson belives that maybe one day we will lose someone and feel no pain and have no scar whether it is visual or internal. I disagree with this thought. I think that pain is a part of life and that the hope of death without pain is lost along with the one who died.

  24. Kayla Evelyn says:

    I believe that the theme of Dickinson’s poem “There’s a cetain Slant of Light,” is unexplainable depressing feelings. Except in this poem she is making an attempt to bring a certain “Light” on the matter. This poem seems so intense especially in her wording “An imperial affliction…”. It makes me think if what she was writing was what she was feeling herself. Was this her secret “Seal of Despair”? If not herself than she was being so strongly impacted by someone she loved who must have been dealing with these emotions, and Emily just put them into phenominal words.

  25. Kady B says:

    I think Emily Dickenson meant that the winter is a dark, depressing time that opresses people. I can relate to this in that winter is a dark, depressing time for me as well. “We can find no scar, but internal difference” refers to emotional damage. She also compares the winter light to death.

  26. karen says:

    Personally i believe that this poem’s theme is hope. the way she describes the slant of light, it gives me the impression of hope for a dead loved one. for eaxample in the poem dickenson says,”There’s a certain Slant of light,
    Winter Afternoons —
    That oppresses, like the Heft
    Of Cathedral Tunes –“. To me this means that there is always a silver lining. no matter how grim our situations get, we always have that “slant of light” or that burst of hope.

    Also when the poems says”None may teach”, it reminds me of one of the comments given on this same site. one commenter said that hope is only taught when we are deficients of it. i believe that is exactly what this phrase drawn from the poem means. Hope is not something that is taught. we aquire it.

    When emily dickenson was writting, maybe she had just lost a dead loved one. she may have been thinking about how that loss relates to the loss of light on winter. but right when a slant or just a little bit of light come it gives us hope. that was probably what she may have been feeling.

  27. alexandra and e'lexis says:

    This poem was hard to understand at first. After I reread it and read the comments from others, I saw the other opnions and ways to look at it. I realized the message of the poem, which was about death and the after-life.

  28. Patrick says:

    I believe that the message Emily Dickinson is trying to say is that when you see death, you see heaven, and you see hell. When I read it, I didn’t quite understand it at first, but when I read it over and over again, the message became clearer and clearer to me. When Emily Dickinson wrote
    “That oppresses, like the Heft
    Of Cathedral Tunes-”
    I believed that those two lines were the lines that were the most confusing to me. There were also the words that were capitalized, such as Landscape, Shadows, and Death- I must say, it is very peculiar to why Dickinson capitalized certain words jjust to add more emphasis to the poem. Basically, this is a very moving poem. Read it!

  29. emily jesus says:

    this poem is about depression. it is emily dickinsons attempt to describe the feelings that accompany depression, at a time when doctors and physicians did not realize depression was an illness or an actual mental problem. Dickinson explains that the feeling of depression is like the heft [heaviness, weight] of cathedral tunes. The auditory imagery of this gives the reader the impression of the deep organ tunes often heard from churches. Another use of imagery is in the picture Dickinson gives the reader of the slant of light on a winter afternoon. Dickinson lived on the east coast, where winter afternoons held a dreary, downcast, grey sky. Dickinson describes depression as a hurt that leaves no scar, as it is not visible to others. She explins that depression on changes on internally [where the meanings are].

  30. Ann Cotrupi says:

    The poem seems to reflect the way one feels when one is feeling ill. The illness seems to have hit us “out of the blue.” We think (hope) this will pass. No one else can appreciate our suffering or sense our inner despair. Soon, we believe (hope) we will get through this period and feel better. Hopefully, soon we’ll look into the mirror and see our healthy selves looking back. Then this bad time will be just an unpleasant memory.

  31. noah says:

    i think this poem is about suckin paynus

  32. Cherell B. says:

    This poem can have many different meanings to it. But to me, this poem means the person is standing in front of the door way to death looking back at their life and what they did. The music being played is from their funeral and the light shinig is from God’s stair way and taking their last breath is they are finally near death.

  33. Ciara says:


  34. Sidra Muntaha says:

    In this poem,Emily Dickson is expressing her mind about hope and then she is relating it to the eternal idea od death.In the poem, she personifies hope as the slant of light in the winter. She also repressents death as a symbol of sorrows, sadness and agony.

  35. Brittany says:

    I believe that this poem is about enduring things in life and finding a way to get through it. When it is refering to winter it is referring to tough times that we will experience in our lifetime. The “light” in the poem symbolizes hope. Life can seem dark and dull at times, but when a little light shines it gives you a great sense of hope that there can be a better tommorow! Without these tough and dark times that Emily Dickinson refers to, we would not grow or mature in the way that God has intended for us. In my opinion I believe that when we experience these tough times God is the one who sends a light to give us hope in the dark times.

  36. shanay-nay says:

    In my opion,the certain slant of light on a cold winter day for emily Dickinson is mysterious,like she thinks there’s a meaning to the light.I definitely think that she is refering death, and that everyting goes silent when your spirit leaves the body, and your free.Although she’s talking about death, she still incorporates the beauty of nature into the poem.this poem gives me the idea thta she believes that we are all going to leave the earth with nothing heavy on our soul’s except for the events in our life that truly matter.

  37. Travis says:

    How she is talking about hope and how she is seeeing throught the the light in an winter afternoon. She is also finding her self and fighting through life and living without scars. She is looking inside herself and seeing what she is really made of. She is also talking about noe one can teach you how ot find your self, only you can. it is always good to be by yourself and listen to nature and just pay attention to your surroundings.

  38. Fernando says:

    The is saying that the light cast upon the world is like hope: it will fade away at times but will return. At times we are depressed because we feel the weather has turned against us. When light, hope, is returning to us, the “darness” holds it’s breath hoping themselves that the darkness will return. Hope is taught only when we are deficient in it.

  39. katie norris says:

    This poem really is about hope. The slant of light is the light we see in every darkness. The will to carry on, to have faith and trust is what we learn through living life. Thhat is why none may teach it.

  40. Travis says:

    How she is talking about hope and how she is seeeing throught the the light in an winter afternoon. She is also finding her self and fighting through life and living without scars. She is looking inside herself and seeing what she is really made of.

  41. g ceds says:

    i believe that this poem is about hope. The slant of light is the sliver of hope that lies within all of us, even on the cold winter afternoons, that fall upon us like the cathedral tunes. Althouhg having this hope hurts is, it leaves no scar, but truly lies within our souls. One cant teach hope, but only few undertsand, ‘the impirial affliction. When hope comes, all is well, but when it leaves we are left with the idea of death

  42. Chris McComb says:

    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 poem.
    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 change.
    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 human race.
    “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.

  43. Alb says:

    The opening stanza speaks of the Slant of light as emotionally impacting and oppressing, in the same manner as religion. In the second stanza the emotional, “internal difference” caused by such an atmosphere is set aside the contrasting image of physical harm: “We can find no scar.” In the third, the unworldly nature of the certain Slant of light is noted “None may teach it … An imperial affliction” implying a godly source. The “Slant of light” seems to me to be the darkness cast by clouds passing over the sun. When it comes “shadows hold their breath,” as their source of life (the sun) is obstructed; when the shadow leaves you, the cloud no longer looming directly overhead, its shadow follows, and, now being viewed from afar, “tis like the Distance On the look of Death.”

  44. Dickie says:

    Adam Rounds is a very strange kid. He’s also gay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Emily Dickinson better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.