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
Image via Pexels.com

I don’t remember when I first encountered this poem–in high school, perhaps, or maybe even middle school. Certainly it was in a textbook, offered up as an example of the work of a famous American poet. Regardless, it’s always rung deeply true for me. There is something about the light on a winter afternoon that’s oppressive, that reminds me of endings and the oncoming rush of darkness.

We’re nearing the darkest day of the year. A week from this Saturday is the winter solstice. After that, the balance will tip back towards light. But for now, darkness gathers its force. For now, winter afternoon sunbeams are a reminder of what has passed, what we have lost, what we will lose. For now, the light is a rare and precious thing, but not without barbs.

Everything in its place

Morning is the place for dew,
Corn is made at noon,
After dinner light for flowers,
Dukes for setting sun!

~Emily Dickinson

One of the side-effects of growing up is that you start to inadvertently recall all the wise old sayings you detested as a child. When I read this poem, the one that springs to mind is, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” These lines aren’t concerned with human order, however–the artificial arrangement of our worlds–but with the natural order of things. Dew belongs in the morning. Corn ripens in the hottest part of the day, and the afternoon sun nourishes blossoms. They are followed by sunset, which is the place for dukes. Dukes may be human, of course, but this post by Susan Kornfeld makes an excellent argument for the Duke owl, which would of course emerge after sunset to hunt.

Nature has its perfect order. Everything is where it should be. There is a time for everything, a place for everything, and when everything is in its place, all is right with the world.