Study Guide

There's a certain Slant of light Suffering

By Emily Dickinson

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What's the difference between isolation and suffering? In "There's a certain Slant of light," the two may look the same, but they're depicted by the speaker in slightly different ways. Isolation is kind of the precursor to suffering in the poem. Think about it: without isolation, suffering doesn't happen (at least not in this poem anyway). That's not to say they don't have lots in common, and lots to chat about together. For example, both appear to be illuminated by that mysterious slant of light.

Questions About Suffering

  1. How does isolation appear to lead to suffering in the poem? Can you have one without the other?
  2. What's the deal with that "imperial affliction"? Does it appear to be a sort of metaphor for the speaker's suffering? Why or why not? 
  3. How does the speaker blend the outside and inside worlds in a way that makes both appear to be the cause of the speaker's suffering?
  4. How does the speaker's voice contribute to the poem's theme of suffering? Does she sound overly emotional or does her suffering sound more understated? Which parts of the poem lead you to your answer?

Chew on This

Let's see…where to place all this blame? The speaker's suffering in Dickinson's poem is brought on by both the outside and inside worlds since the "imperial affliction" is sent from the "Air."

Cue the "Unsolved Mysteries" theme song. Even the speaker's suffering is depicted in a mysterious and understated way that's not overly emotional or specific about its origins.

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