It's winter, it's painful, and you know what that means. We've got Emily Dickinson in town for the day, ready to shed some light on, well, "light" and its oppressive ways. At first glance maybe you're thinking "There's a certain Slant of light" will be a bit more upbeat than usual for Dickinson, since it looks like it's about light. But you'd be mistaken, because "light" in this case is something that's harsh, oppressive, and impossible to define—especially in those "Winter Afternoons."
But we should cut Dickinson some slack. Despite all the doom and gloom she's typically associated with, the lady was quite the rebel in her day. After all, we're talking about mid-19th-century America, when women were expected to cook, clean, tend to their husbands/fathers all day, and have a nice big smile all the while. Oh and forget about Beyoncé and all her "single ladies." That was pretty much the worst thing a woman could possibly imagine, according to 19th-century standards. And yet, take one guess as to who chose to defy the odds and focus on her own work without marriage. That's right. Dickinson was polishing her proverbial rebel boots way before Beyoncé.
You can imagine, though, that this sort of decision proved to be a rather painful one. Editors weren't exactly lined up out the door, ready to publish a woman's work. In fact, most of Dickinson's poetry never saw the "light" of the publishing world until 1890—after her death. Still, she managed to compose over a thousand poems that audiences today recognize as being groundbreaking in form, syntax, and philosophy so many years later.
"There's a certain Slant of light" is one of her most well-known poems, one that provides a nearly perfect indication of what Dickinson's work was all about. She uses the imagery of winter light to create connections with the speaker's internal conflict over meaning, despair, and understanding. So, yes, we can't escape the elements of depression and despair here, but it isn't just about doom and gloom. We recognize that there is indeed something disconcerting about that "Slant of light" in Dickinson's poem.
Beyoncé fan or not, we can't help but look around us now and then and realize that quite a bit has changed for women over the years in America. Nowadays we've got songs all about feminine independence and ladies in real life making their way in the world. But back in the 19th century, all that talk might as well have been a dream for most women. So it's kind of cool to look back to Emily Dickinson's time when those seeds of independence and autonomy were just starting (at least in spirit) to really take root.
And even if you're not a woman, Dickinson's "There's a certain Slant of light" will prove that the issue of meaning and "internal difference," as our speaker puts it, is something that affects us all. We're all unique human beings trying to figure stuff out and define the outside/inside worlds as best we can. And in doing so, we tend to get turned around and left feeling kind of down because of that indefinable "Heavenly Hurt" and the fact that "we can find no scar."
So even though we recognize that Dickinson was a rather rebellious poet thumbing her nose at the patriarchy and all its expectations of women, we also understand that her poetry is remarkably human and indicative of the struggles we all face on occasion. And no matter a person's gender, race, religion, or allegiance with Team Jacob or Team Edward, their life can be quite the struggle with all the defining, redefining, and that "Slant of light" that keeps getting in their eyes.