There's a certain Slant of light by Emily Dickinson: Summary and Analysis

The poem describes the slant rays of light in a winter afternoon. Winter symbolizes death and 'afternoon' further stands for death. So, the situation presented in the poem is that of a speaker contemplating the death-like winter afternoon. She is reminded of her ultimate end. The slants in the light of winter afternoons oppress the speaker like the sad and heavy cathedral tunes.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

The slant gives the speaker a heavenly hurt. It is not physical suffering, but the suffering of the spirit. Man helplessly must endure this suffering, because the sources of suffering are so mysterious and powerful. The forces of nature which send affliction on man are so powerful that even landscape shudders at their approaching footsteps, and shadows suspend their breath with fear. When they go away, it is like a look of death going away from us.

The season, as well as the day, are suggestive of death. The slant of light on a winter day is endowed with some anthropomorphic qualities. It is oppressive like the sad cathedral tunes. Emily Dickinson's way of comparing the slant rays of the dying day to the weight of the cathedral tunes, reflects the meta-physical quality of her mind. Nature represented by the slant rays of the setting sun in winter, is a source of human suffering. Nature causes hurt to the human spirit. This clearly reflects Emily Dickinson's tragic view of life, and contours of her despair. The suffering caused by natural forces is not physical, but spiritual.

The word 'heavenly' suggests that the winter light is symbolic of God. It becomes the agent of God to inflict pain on the mind of the speaker. The hurt is not physical and therefore leaves no visible scar on the body. The hurt is internal. It is in the spirit of man where meanings of things lie. The air sends an imperial affliction. Again the speaker is at the receiving end. The word 'imperial' further attests Emily's use of 'air' to symbolize God. So, light and air, as agents of God send affliction and despair on the spirit of man. None can resist it and none can understand their ways. None can understand the ways of God and nature. They elude us. It is like the 'heavenly hurt'. It suggests that God is behind the acts of nature.

When the 'heavenly hurt' or the 'imperial affliction' comes, the landscape shudders with fear and shadows suspend their breath. When it goes, it makes little difference. It leaves the marks of death. When the light comes with its heavenly hurt, or when the air brings the imperial affliction, the rest of Nature, like the landscape and shadows, trembles with fear. When it goes, it is only like a look of death going a little farther from the speaker, that is, it still leaves the speaker pale with fear and marks of death left behind.

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Shrestha, Roma. "There's a certain Slant of light by Emily Dickinson: Summary and Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 8 Jan. 2018,