a certain Slant of light


sun shining through stained glass  (stockphotosforfree.com via flickr)

There’s a certain Slant of light, (320)


There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, 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 –
winter sunset
winter sunset

I love this poem by Emily Dickinson.  The images and words hold so much meaning for me.

The certain Slant of light — is very difficult to catch in a photograph.

Especially in winter.

I often try, though.

This was taken in rural Indiana during a gentle snow in December of 2012.
I love the muted colors:  the blues and greys and the dull red of the barn.
The photograph doesn’t capture the beauty I saw that day, however.
This was another year, another snowfall and another attempt to catch the lovely light of a wintery afternoon.
We had had a substantial snowfall, so my husband and I took a drive out to the country roads in our area to see if we could capture a lovely scene.
I have visited many cathedrals during my lifetime.  Each has a unique feel;  a certain quality of light and space and sound.
More from the Koln Dom -- stained glass
More from the Koln Dom — stained glass
Koln Dom main entry and spires
Koln Dom main entry and spires

I don’t find the light oppressive like Cathedral tunes.

Cathedral tunes — which I take to mean huge pipe organs and wonderful choirs — are joyous and beautifully heart-wrenching but not oppressive.

The Heavenly Hurt is something that I often feel, and that I have come to understand.

stained glass window in the National Cathedral in DC
stained glass from the National Cathedral in DC
light National Cathedral, DC
National Cathedral, DC

This poem comes closest to explaining the Heavenly Hurt for me:

(I apologize for using poetry to explain poetry, but it makes sense to me.)


by Anne Porter

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

Not white, not on moss -- but a violet, sill!
Not white, but it is a violet on moss!

I added the italics for emphasis.  What lovely imagery!  Porter describes that feeling of desolation/homesickness/joy/sorrow that so often comes when I hear/sing/play/experience beauty so well.

Tolkien describes this feeling, too:   both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.

He was talking about the realm of Faerie, but I think the feeling is real and is very much a part of our lives here on earth.

The full quote:  “Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold…The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien


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I am a pianist, musician, music teacher, choir director, mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, neighbor. I enjoy music (of course!), quilting, sewing, beading, traveling, kayaking, camping, biking, hiking, gardening, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking, reading, poetry, drinking good coffee, and having fun with family and friends. NOTE -- Creative Commons License: All work of The Tromp Queen (quirkyjazz, aka Jill) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 Unported License.

7 thoughts on “a certain Slant of light”

  1. This post is amazing and what’s really neat about it is that I was having a very same discussion about this with our music teacher this week. About joy and sorrow and the heart that is touched when a violin string is played exactly right. He then gave me Tolkien’s essay on Faerie to read — which I’m reading right now. I’m going to print Porter’s poem for him — thank you so much for posting it here. Have you read Chesteron’s essay on Fairyland? It’s in Orthodoxy. And now I’m following you, as well.

  2. What a beautiful ramble through words, song and light. Thanks Jill. I know that light through stained glass windows is awesome. Especially at Sinsinawa.

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