In her lyric poem “There’s a certain Slant of Light”, Emily Dickinson manipulates the titular slant of light as a metaphysical conceit, exploring the way the ephemeral world damages the speaker in definite ways, despite the lack of physical interaction or evidence. The beam of light acts as a vehicle for any of the elemental forces active on the plane of “internal difference” (7): fear, love, and despair, et al. The poem’s unconventional grammatical structure allows the speaker to explore ambiguity in line readings—both within and between stanzas—and draws forward the blurring of the physical and metaphysical worlds the conceit addresses. Meanwhile, precise diction counterpoises “positively” and “negatively” connoted words, paralleling and magnifying the contrast between the “positive” light and the negative suffering it creates for the speaker. Through their combined magnification these layers of poetic technique create a subtle, poignant bolster for the poem’s articulated argument that an ephemeral object, a “certain slant of light”, has real, if invisible, effects on the speaker’s well being.
There’s a certain Slant of light,
- Slant capitalized for emphasis.
- End stop with a comma unusual for Dickinson
- Light established as subject–conceit?
- Consonance on “s” & “t”
Winter Afternoons –
- Winter & Afternoons both capitalized; both emphasized
- Isolation also emphasizes
- Characteristic Dickinson dash! Rhythmic affectation
- Part of the first syntactical unit
- Winter associations: Bleak, cold, peaceful, barren
- Afternoon associations: Pleasant, peaceful, domestic, winding-down.
That oppresses, like the Heft
- Heft capitalized, emphasis
- use of comma as caesura: Stillness of the afternoon’s oppression
- No end stop at all; smaller rhythmic pause–less isolation of heft. Almost like the small breath one takes when “hefting” something.
Of Cathedral Tunes –
- Parallel structure to line 2: Formation of pattern. Like routine? Like melody of “tunes”?
- Full capitalization again.
- Tunes an interesting word for cathedral music. Tunes has connotations of silliness, lightness. Cathedral has connotations of heaviness, melancholy. Contrast parallels contrast within Winter afternoon.
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
- Caesura comma again PLUS ALSO end stopped with a dash. Very broken rhythm.
- Alliteration on “H” makes it seem more unified.
- Double capitalization emphasizes the oxymoron. More contrasts!
- Weird syntactical structure puts Heavenly Hurt first in sentence, more spotlighting.
We can find no scar,
- Comma end stop. Complete thought.
- Something of the syntax: the finding of “No” another contradiction. A positive and a negative.
But internal difference –
- Incomplete syntactical unit. Works with the preceding thought but continues incomplete.
- Break accentuated by the use of the dash.
Where the meanings, are –
- Weird comma! Weird Comma! Forces a pause after meanings. More emphasis on it.
- Very broken rhythm
- Dash right after “are” creates suspense.
None may teach it – Any –
- V. Confusing syntactically
- None may teach it where the meanings are?
- None may teach it in the place where there are meanings?
- Both “It” and “Any” highly ambiguous.
- It: the light, the heavenly hurt, the scar, internal difference. All possible readings.
- Any: Doesn’t connect to anything? Implies a limitlessness but also deliberate vagueness connected to the vagueness in its connotation. Similar to the contradictions used before?
- Dashes: Very broken up but not gently or syntactically
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
- Archaic phrasing
- metaphor: Light as the tenor, Seal Despair as vehicle, meaning that the light carries the mark of despair, indicates despair’s power and property.
- Consonance on “s”
- Curious omission of “of”. Sounds more ominous, vaguely French. More concrete.
- Ends in dash. Broken at end stop
An imperial affliction
- I expected “imperial affliction” to be capitalized. De-emphasized almost
- No punctuation at all–more de-emphasis. Faster pacing.
- Another metaphor: Tenor, the light, vehicle an affliction. Comparing the light to a disease.
- Somewhat of a contradiction in imperial and affliction: Imperial great, powerful and positive (generally) affliction negative, crippling and sad. Both have a dignified connotation.
Sent us of the Air –
- Return to the use of dash.
- “Us” ambiguous. Speaker and reader? Speaker and addressee beyond the reader? Speaker and author? All humanity?
- “Air” capitalized for emphasis.
- “air” somewhat connoted with Heaven/God/Holy Spirit especially with capitalization. An affliction sent from heaven? Literally sent from the heavens above: the sun. A divine punishment?
- Could also be a pun on “putting on airs”, as in a punishment for being snobby. That’s probably a stretch.
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
- “It” another ambiguity. Probably the light.
- Caesura comma and final dash. Balanced and full of pauses.
- Landscape emphasized with capitalization. Also personified
- alliteration on “L”
Shadows – hold their breath –
- Dashes evoke the holding of breath
- Personification of shadows
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
- Comma as caesura.
- Parallel but opposite to first line. As a comparative, like the comparisons/oxymorons
- Distance capitalized for emphasis.
- simile prompted: Tenor the light (it) vehicle “the distance”
On the look of Death –
- Finishing simile: Full vehicle “the Distance/on the look of Death”
- Means Death’s facial expression as far as I can tell.
- Keeps the “of” in contrast to Seal Despair. Probably for clarity sake?
- Dash at the end generates a sense of suspense.
- Capitalization for Death emphasis.
- Repetition of “D” sound for last word in previous line
Overall: Four quatrains. Rhyme scheme: ABCB with A & C containing similar sounds except in the third quatrain. Irregular meter.
I’m interested in exploring the implications of the comparisons and oxymorons within the diction and how they create a evocative tone that isolates a single instant and emotion concurrently.
“Leda and the Swan” tells the story of Zeus’ rape of Leda, which engenders the fall of Troy and the death of Agamemnon through Helen’s conception. With the use of strong, evocative imagery, Keats argues that the horror of the rape immediately presages the horror of the war to come. Keats manipulates many aspects of the Sonnet form in “Leda and the Swan”, mashing features from both the English and Italian sonnet forms into a single work. With the ABABA rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter of the English sonnet dominating, the first half of the poem seems an English sonnet, divided into two quatrains with separate but following logic. The sonnet continues, however in an unusual format: three lines grouped into an idea: “A shudder in the loins engenders there/the broken wall, the burning roof and tower/and agamemnon dead.” Yet this stanza fits neither the quatrain pattern nor completes a line of iambic pentameter. Rather, the meter alters after the stanza break with “Being so caught up,” which reverses the iambs to trochees. This switch, along with the turn in the poem’s subject matter–from describing the act of the rape and its consequences to questioning Leda’s comprehension of its scope–marks the volta. The second section, with the volta at its center, mimics the sestet of an Italian sonnet, with the two quatrains that proceed it taking the place of the octave. The poem neatly condenses the two forms by placing the volta in the middle of what would be the sestet, splitting the difference between the volta placement at the final couplet break of an English sonnet, and the volta placement at the beginning of the sestet of the Italian sonnet, while the rhyme pattern continues between the stanzas as though the sestet remained uninterrupted.
The Volta of “Leda and the Swan” shifts attention from the immediate horror of Leda’s rape to wonder if she might have glimpsed the horror to come from it, thereby increasing her suffering. By placing the volta at a mid-line stanza break, the jarring shift is made even more uncomfortable. If the horror of the poetic situation were not enough, the reader now must cope with a violation of form that parallels Zeus’ violation of Leda. Yet, around the violation, the rhyme scheme continues uninterrupted, like history rolls on around Leda’s pain. While mimicking the psychological disruption Leda faces, the volta subtly brings the reader into Leda’s mindset while leaving the question of her understanding unanswered, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions and meanwhile drop into the second level of Leda’s anguish: the anguish of uncertain anticipation.
Check out The Sonnet Project to see some modern, multi-media interactions with an age-old medium.
Revised with a focus on clarity and concision: Attempted to reduce unnecessary flourishes in favor of directness while also including a clearer quotation.
“kitchenette buildings” opening stanza establishes a muted, disconnected environment for its speakers through the manipulation of visual imagery, syntactical units, and sound devices. Beginning in the speaker’s self-description, “We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan/Grayed in, and gray.” (Brooks 1-2), the poem’s descriptive diction favors muted vagaries. By repeating “gray” in two forms—once as a verb and once as an adjective—the poem creates a sense of monotonous repetition by refusing to diversify its descriptors. Additionally, the opening sentence manipulates syntax and line breaks to balance the completeness of the thought expressed in the first line with the anticipation of the sentence’s conclusion. This evokes in the reader a sense of anticipation parallel to that felt by the speakers day by day, as well as the inevitable disappointment experienced at the eventual arrival of the languid “Grayed in, and gray” (2). This cliffhanger pattern continues through the second line, until the neat syntactical conclusion of the stanza, which seals the introductory lines as a single conceptual unit. Another grammatical device, the quotations, creates both a syntactical and rhythmic pattern to establish a sense of isolation and disconnect: “Like ‘rent,’ ‘feeding a wife,’ ‘satisfying a man.’” (3). Putting both abstract and concrete concepts like “Dream”, and “rent” in quotations—while actively contrasting the two concepts—allows a level of abstraction from them both that distances the speaker from their experience (2-3). Simultaneously, the cluttered punctuation forces the reader to read carefully, at a plod evocative of the speaker’s trudge through life. Meanwhile, the concept of “Dream”, brought to prominence by its capitalization, suffers a greater degree of isolation created by the use of consonance within the second line. Beginning with the repetition of “gray” at the start of line two, and complemented by the consonance on “g” in “giddy” and “strong” (2), the harsh fricative builds a sonic wall on either side of the dream. This invokes the larger sandwich pattern of poem, and the sandwiching of people within restrictive containers—say, kitchenette apartments.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day,
- Scan reveals that begins with irregular meter already: Mostly iambs with anapest substituted for final foot. My initial impulse was to put stress on the final three syllables, but lacked a vocabulary for that. Felt that each of the last three single-syllable words deserved equal emphasis: Emphasis on individuality (“one”) as well as image (“gray day”). However settled on anapest in order to put stress on the described noun (“day”) above the descriptors.
- Resisted categorizing into more than 5 feet, although later lines stray into hexameter with the “tailless” feet making the sixth foot. Partially because complying with iambic pentameter would require ending on an unstressed syllable which not only sounds unpleasant but also contradicts my rationale in selecting anapest (see above).
- Deviation from Iambic Pentameter as opener: Like using a provocative quote in the opening of an essay. Creates a pattern, deviates slightly enough to engage the reader—will the pattern continue or break? Read on!
- Crisp, concise imagery compliments, crisp, bleak setting.
I paused and said, “I will turn back from here.
- A complete thought: End stopped line. Yet failure to close quotations indicates thought continues.
- “Pause” at beginning of line compliments the preceding line break.
- Compliant w/ Iambic pentameter; connects to the expectation of completed thought.
No, I will go on farther—and we shall see.”
- Contrasted to preceding line: Filled with inconsistencies!
- Addendum to “complete” thought of line 2; multiple caesuras indicate a lack of cohesion as though extemporizing, where the previous line (compliant with iambic pentameter) indicates a sense of composition.
- Caesura directly after “No” separates it as an interjection, making it more forceful; again in contrast to the thought presented in line 2; as though an impulsive protest.
- I would also argue that the final foot parallels the first line in the substitution of an anapest for an iamb; this—despite the disruption to expected pattern—creates a sense of cogency by connecting to the pattern established earlier.
- Also (through repeated deviation from iambic pentameter) demarcates the boundaries of first sentence as the TRUE complete idea, with end stop and closed quotes after “see.”
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
- Returns to conventional iambic pentameter.
- Economical description again conveys sparse landscape.
- Drops off in the middle of idea—like a foot cracking through the crust of snow.
One foot went through. The view was all in lines
-Regularity (return to conventional iambic pentameter) connects/re-emphasizes the image of regular “lines.”
– As does the consonance on “w” “s” & “l” – regular repetition of sounds like the regular repetition of trees.
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
- Lacks any caesura: invokes unending expanse of swamp, unbroken view.
- A “straight” through line, like a “straight” up and down tree.
- Again, economical language evokes frozen landscape.
- Consonance on “l” links two adjectives for trees; sonorous, creating cohesive tranquil image.
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
- The first of the deviations into into tailless Iambic pentameter! Strange, because of reference to “alike” in line…perhaps more connected to the idea of “mark…name”? Would work with deviation in closer proximity to those verbs.
- I think tailless Iamb rather than anapest for because “place” feels more important—and therefore requires greater stress–due to speaker’s desire to locate themselves within the swamp as expressed by the following line.
- Assonance on “a” sounds; “alike” & “mark” vs. “name” & “place”. Creates pleasant symmetry. Again reminiscent of trees. Creation of pairs hearkens to “alike”, creating comparison.
So as to say for certain I was here
- Reversion to iambic pentameter w/o caesura: Again presented as a complete thought. Hearkens back to pattern established in first three lines w/ deviance àcompliance—> repeated deviance.
- Consonance on “s” creates a sloppy mess at beginning of line (like the confusion of being unable to locate oneself?) broken by “here”, which reinforces the speaker’s desire to establish a concrete, nameable place.
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
- Unlike in first three lines, maintains iambic pentameter: breaking pattern by adhering to pattern. Connects to the concept of knowing/not knowing in “just far from home”.
- Like line three, continues a completed thought, beginning w/ a conjunction.
- Return to “s” consonance in first half of sentence reintroduces sense of muddiness in “somewhere else”.
- Caesura isolates second half of sentence as a definitive statement; the speaker’s only concrete knowledge.
through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps;
opening and shutting itself like
The barnacles which encrust the side
of the wave, cannot hide
there for the submerged shafts of the
split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
into the crevices –
in and out, illuminating
of bodies. The water drives a wedge
of iron through the iron edge
of the cliff; whereupon the stars
bespattered jelly-fish, crabs like green
lilies and submarine
toadstools, slide onto each other.
marks of abuse are present on this
all the physical features of
of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm-side is
evidence has proved that it can live
on what can not revive
its youth. The sea grows old in it.
- Begins un-capitalized as though in the middle of a sentence. Single word, active verb w/o a subject.
- Image of underwater stone. Metaphor most likely, w/ Black Jade as a vehicle for another stone, or dark water as suggested by “wade”.
- Beginning of second sentence. Full sentence broken by line break. Use of repeated hyphenation. Syntax confusing b/c subject (“one”) moved to after comma. “Crow-blue” fascinating hyphenated adjective; using the color of a crow (black) to describe a shade of blue.
- Ash-heaps: a metaphor for piles of gray sand; creates image of powdery gray heaps, since no ash underwater probably. Or maybe a reference to magma vents? Probably not.
- Half a simile—carrying the tenor of a the mussel from line 3.
- Next stanza beginning w/ single article to replicate form from first stanza with syntax of current sentence. Continuing simile.
- Vehicle of simile beginning line 5. Includes personification of fan with “injury”.
- “Encrust the side” suggests reference to a ship or at least firm structure of some sort, yet…
- “the wave” does not meet this criteria. Barnacles can not cling to waves…creates confusion.
- “there” referring to the waves, where the barnacles can not hide, yet cites a different reason for their inability to cling than the obvious transience “submerged shafts of the..”
- “Sun” continuing earlier sentence through to next stanza as in pre-established pattern from earlier transition. Again, single word; again different part of speech.
- Beautiful sonic elements: alliteration, consonance. Part of a simile, “spun/glass” as vehicle for sunbeams. Evocative!
- “Themselves”—the beams of sunlight. Compared to another light source (spotlights)…somewhat redundant, yet not quite since focuses on the movement quality of spotlights which is in fact different from that of sunlight.
- Use of dash against line-break: Double emphasis on break.
- Stanza break after “illuminating” causes greater emphasis on “illuminating” esp since separated form both its subject and object.
- Continuation of pattern; returns to use of article, still in middle of sentence.
- Turquoise another stone allusion, although commonly referenced as a only a color. Connection to “Black Jade” line 2?
- “of bodies” transforms “sea” into a metaphor…although for what, remains unsure. Seems like a vehicle for itself? A Sea of bodies still referring to the sea. Curious. Also, personification of water as a force capable of driving a wedge.
- Multiple references to iron—another mineral on the theme of stones established earlier. Also, use of same comparative causes consideration of similarities between cliff (Next line) and water.
- “Stars” used just before line break leaves ambiguous as to whether sea stars or celestial stars.
- Continuation of pattern—an adjective, which is different. Also, “pink” establishes that the previous line refers to sea stars (most likely).
- Rice-grains as a vehicle for the sea stars? The little suckers on them? More use of hyphenation. Also splitting “ink”; slight invocation of octopuses.
- Ink connected to markings on jellyfish; also beginning of new simile for crabs.
- Continuation of simile. Use of plant rather than a mineral…departure from the pattern.
- Image of moving aquatic life completed with sentence and stanza: first time end of sentence coincides with end of stanza.
- By same token, new stanza begins with new sentence. Also marks shift in focus of poem from underwater realm to cliff, as well as larger ideas of resilience connected to the cliff. Still follows visual pattern, thus only a single word.
- Only second line to be a single word—highlights as a defining feature.
- Particularly nonchalant, prose-like line, except for split over line breaks. “Abuse” diction has very specific connotations, interesting for the time period—contemporary audiences definitely would allow for the abuse of natural fixtures.
- Use of hyphen again to isolate edifice further, highlighting connotations of independence. Edifice also connected to minerals.
- Break after “of” allows fractional suspense and heightens impact of next section.
- “ac-“ follows pattern but highlights damaging nature of accidents by breaking word.
- As above, complemented by internal breakage of dash.
- List broken via line break and grammatical construction—irregular like a damaged stone face.
- “Hatchet strokes” cut off from rest of list. Haha. Stand at end of line, similar highlighting as “edifice”, emphasis on independence.
- Suspense—dare I say cliff hanger—cutting sentence off directly after verb.
- Highlighting implications of “dead” by continuing pattern of stand-alone first line. Also by end stop.
- Ambiguous—referencing next line directly, yet might be construed as referencing death or even accidents of previous lines.
- This counters the assertion of “dead” at the beginning of the stanza.
- The modifier standing alone forces consideration of its terms, specifically contemplation of “what can not revive”.
- Youth and old in the same line, but separate sentences. The shortest sentence of all. “It” somewhat ambiguous, sea personified.
Topic Sentence: Marianne Moore’s The Fish uses metaphors with specific emphasis on minerals to highlight the stone-like ageless permanence of the ecosystem formed by waves, cliff, and sea life.