Annotation of “There’s a Certain Slant of Light…”

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.


One thought on “Annotation of “There’s a Certain Slant of Light…”

  1. The parts of your annotation that are the strongest occur when you stop to ask questions that it’s oxymorons raise for you. These are important questions, and worth addressing them in your paper, but I wanted to see your statement of purpose be more specific in this regard. Which “oxymorons” seem significant, and why? What might examining them more closely reveal about the poem’s meanings or intentions?

    You’re right to say that the slant of light is a “conceit,” but it seems from what you’ve written here that you are overlooking the more obvious question – how can a “slant of light” create such powerfully contradicting and profound sensations? Dickinson is taking the ordinary and transforming it into something quite extraordinary. Why?

    Since you’ve gone through the poem line by line, there is in some instances a tendency to overlook the syntactical relationships across line breaks. In most places you don’t do this (the line where you ask what “it” and “any” refer to and you look to other lines to help contextualize it for you), but there are other instances where it seems like you are overlooking the bigger picture by focusing on lines in isolation like this. For example: “We can find no scar / But internal difference.” That is, there is a scar produced by the “slant of light,” but it is the scar of “internal difference / Where the meanings, are.” You do acknowledge that the line “but internal differences” does continue the sense from the previous line, but it’s curious to me that you don’t elaborate on the idea that the light produces a “scar” which is “internal difference / where the meanings are.” This is just a preliminary exercise, so I suspect that you would look into these elements in more detail, but this is also an extension of my comments on paper 1 where it did feel like you had a tendency to look at lines and phrases in isolation from their syntactical context, so I just want to make sure you aren’t missing out on important details.


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