Monday, December 13, 2010

There's a certain Slant of light

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 --
(Emily Dickinson, c. 1861)

It's December 13 today, Santa Lucia's Day, and we have celebrated the Sicilian woman Lucia, who brought supplies to Christians hiding in the catacombs during Diocletian's reign in the third century. She carried a wreath of candles on her head, and has thus become a symbol of light.

When I looked into Uta Barth's photographs the other day, I saw that Lyra Kilson mentioned "A certain Slant of light" in her review of Bart's recent work. And being quite obsessed with light these days (it gets dark at four in the afternoon where I live) I thought this particular poem by Emily Dickinson would fit well on this dark winter day (which is Santa Lucia's).

But while Santa Lucia used light in a practical way, to be able to maneuver through the catacombs, Emily Dickinson's light holds a spiritual meaning. However, the literal image of light that enters her room on a winter afternoon forms a very important grounding to a poem which says a lot (that is quite difficult to grasp) about spiritual enlightenment.

I found a suite101 reading that helped me understand this poem a little better. Here is what it says about the third stanza:

The speaker declares that no one can teach another how to become aware of the mystical attributes of the yearning for meaning. While “Despair” leads one in that direction, and the desire is universal, it comes to each one as simply as breathing. One’s spiritual development has to be right before one can entertain such divine cravings.

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