There's a certain Slant of light, Winter Afternoons – That oppresses, like the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes – Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson’s poetry was greatly inspired by science, nature, and the passing of the seasons. L. Edwin Folsom explains in “The Souls That Snow”, that Dickinson wrote about 500 poems about the seasons. They were divided into about 400 poems about summer and spring, and about 100 about winter and autumn. Folsom suggests “winter for Dickinson is the season that forces reality”, and that winter seemed linked to death and eternity. This could be why these months didn’t receive much attention from her. Yet the poems she did write about winter convey a deep sense of reflection and contemplation.
The following poem, “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” is one where Dickinson highlights the connection between winter and death.
“There’s a certain Slant of Light” by Emily Dickinson
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 –
Dickinson, who lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the cold and snow of winter is a reality for at least 6 months out of the year, did accept winter as part of her identity. In the following, slightly more upbeat poem, she states that she sees “New Englandly” and that winter is part of that vision
“The Robin’s my Criterion for Tune” by Emily Dickinson
The Robin's my Criterion for Tune— Because I grow—where Robins do— But, were I Cuckoo born— I'd swear by him— The ode familiar—rules the Noon— The Buttercup's, my Whim for Bloom— Because, we're Orchard sprung— But, were I Britain born, I'd Daisies spurn— None but the Nut—October fit— Because, through dropping it, The Seasons flit—I'm taught— Without the Snow's Tableau Winter, were lie—to me— Because I see—New Englandly— The Queen, discerns like me— Provincially—
To continue on this positive association of winter, Dickinson suggests that winter is good for transitions and supportive of individual growth.
Winter under cultivation Is as arable as Spring
But even with these positive affiliations to winter, Dickinson still wants the reader to know so prefers the spring and summer.
“Winter is good — his Hoar Delights” by Emily Dickinson
Winter is good — his Hoar Delights Italic flavor yield To Intellects inebriate With Summer, or the World — Generic as a Quarry And hearty — as a Rose — Invited with Asperity But welcome when he goes.
So it seems that Dickinson may have had a mixed relationship with the colder months. Whereas the spring and summer may have inspired an abundance of poetic expression, the hibernation of winter provided time for introspection and digestion of the past year’s events. However, this time of contemplation should only last so long before it is time to welcome spring again.
I am fairly new to the study of Dickinson’s work but find her verse and imagery fascinating. There is such a range from “Because I could not stop for Death” to “A Bird came down the Walk”, I can easily see why she has earned her place as one of the great American poets.
- Folsom, L. Edwin. Notes from ‘The Souls That Snow’ Retrieved from White Heat, The Emily Dickinson Blog, Dartmouth
- Dickinson Poems retrieved from:
Naturalist Weekly runs on coffee and a passion for writing. Your donation will keep the coffee pot full and the content flowing. You could also consider using the NaturalistWeekly’s Bookshop.org storefront to buy your next book. We are an affiliate of Bookshop.org and may receive a small commission if you purchase a book from Bookshop.org.