in A Level, English Literature, Poetry

Below, you’ll find part of an analysis of the poem ‘There’s a certain Slant of light’ by Emily Dickinson.

Includes a breakdown of the stanzas, an insight into the speaker + voice of the poem, and an exploration of the themes and deeper meanings. This is only a quick overview to help you get to grips with the poem; you can access a full in-depth breakdown of the poem below.


LINK TO THE FULL POEM

STORY/SUMMARY

Stanza 1: There’s a certain angle of light that falls on Winter afternoons, that feels oppressive, like the heavy weight of Cathedral music.

Stanza 2: It hurts in a spiritual, heavenly way – we find no scars from it outside our body, but it makes an internal difference, where the meanings are within us 

Stanza 3: No one can teach it to us – any of it – it is the seal of Despair upon our soul, an imperial illness that is airborne and sent to us by the air.

Stanza 4: When this light comes, the landscape listens and falls silent, shadows hold their breath, when it goes it is like the distance created between a living being and the look of Death.

SPEAKER/VOICE

The speaker notices that light looks a particular way on Winter afternoons as it falls across the world – onto the landscape. There is something spiritual about this light as if it is heavenly, but also oppressive – it is similar to the heavy music heard in Cathedrals, that seems to weigh upon the soul and infuse it with feelings of dread or despair. The presence of the light creates silence, and when it leaves it leaves an impression of Death upon those who witnessed it.

THEMES

TASK: For each of the themes below, make a mind map and explore quotations that relate to it. What, in your opinion, is Dickinson’s final message or statement about each theme? 
  • Religion vs Personal Spirituality 
  • Oppression 
  • Nature 
  • Seasons 
  • Despair 
  • Mental Health 
  • Passion 
  • Suffering and Difficulty 
  • Light 
  • Death 
TASK: The poem explores the thematic tension between organised religion and personal spirituality. How does Dickinson use this tension in the poem? 

Thanks for reading! If you’re studying this particular poem, you can buy our detailed study guide here. This includes:

  • Vocabulary
  • Story + Summary
  • Speaker + Voice
  • Language Feature Analysis
  • Form and Structure Analysis
  • Context
  • Attitudes + Messages
  • Themes + Deeper Ideas
  • Key Quotations
  • Extra tasks to complete by yourself

If you’re interested in our complete Emily Dickinson course, click here.

For all our English Literature and Language courses, click here.

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