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: