a certain Slant of light

Redon (again): The Dream is Finished By Death
(from his illustrations of The Juror, on the MOMA website)

I wrote yesterday that I had recently discovered a new Emily Dickinson poem--it was actually my brother who introduced me to it, in the process of the two of us working together on a paper of his.

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons--
That opresses, 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--

I love this. The images are beautiful and majestic and solemn. There are ideas interleaved and a great paradox at the center. What does it mean that in the moments of illumination, we find deep recesses of darkness? Why do we find despair at the interstices of the happy heart?

I think that it is the solemn tone of this poem that I love most of all. From that first stanza I am sitting on a forgotten bench in a ruined cathedral. There are great trees overhead, intertwining with the crumbling arches and pedestals. It is quiet, but the sort of quiet that one hears during a snowfall--that heavy hush that is utterly unique to late winter afternoons. A hush that has "the Heft Of Cathedral Tunes."

Her phrase, "the Landscape listens--/ Shadows--hold their breath" reminds me, for unclear reasons, of Grendel waiting outside of Beowulf's hall, and of the thoughts of the Venerable Bede on man's life:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.