The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Emily Dickinson’s poetic strategy is governed by her belief that truth must be approached indirectly in order to be understood most fully. In “The thought beneath so slight a film” (poem 210), for example, she insists that the “film,” or embodiment in a work of art, allows the idea to be “more distinctly seen,” and she uses two similes (lace revealing breasts and mists revealing the Alps) as examples. In “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” (poem 1129), she explains more fully why “success in circuit lies”: “the Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind.” Again she uses a simile, this time the way adults explain the phenomenon of lightning to children (in a metaphorical and “kind” manner), to express a truth figuratively which cannot be expressed literally.

“There’s a certain Slant of light” is the fullest and most complicated rendering of this idea; in it, she uses dramatic metaphors and similes not only to suggest her own literary methodology but also to express the dynamic interrelation she sees between people and nature. One of the interesting aspects of her first line (as in all her poems, used by editors as the title) is that it is the word “Slant” which is capitalized, and no other, not even “light,” though there are fourteen internal capitalizations in the poem. The focus is not on the light itself, but on the angle it takes at a particular time of day (late afternoon) during a particular...

(The entire section is 446 words.)