‘A certain slant of light’

Posted Dec. 07, 2013, at 3:36 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Emily Dickinson wrote:

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

I think she was onto something. There’s a weight to the long shadows of late fall and winter. The sun never gets high, so they stay long all day. They stretch out in sometimes ominous distortions of the reality they mimic. The slant and glow tends to graze the high points, revealing contours usually unseen.

In the streets of Portland, some sidewalks won’t see the sun till spring. It gets high enough to graze the building tops, but never reaches the shaded ground. The illuminated building crowns explode into color while reflected in opposing shopfront windows.

Dickinson goes on to say:

None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the Seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

She thinks this slanted light is a lot like death. I suspect her feelings for winter sun and long shadows were tinged by the fact she never left her room. If she’d had the chance to roam my city by the sea with a camera on a crisp day, stopping for a hot toddy and a chat, she’d see the light has an altogether different slant.

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