This poem has been flitting in and out of my mind all week, a strange and melancholy refrain for a week of winter sunshine.
I have always loved Dickinson's poems about the sublime. More than the British Romantics (like Wordsworth), whose "spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" has always seemed a bit contrived to me, Dickinson just seems to get it. Those moments that strike you dumb and breathless and terrified and awed. Sometimes beauty is painful, and the ache of a beautiful moment can slice straight through your heart and enter into your gut. The search for those moments in a book is probably what lead me to study Flannery O'Connor, to be honest, but I first found them in Dickinson. Poems like this still make me catch my breath and gasp, just a little, for air. The fact that you can sing her poems to just about any common hymn makes them even more likely to rattle around in my head for a while. And I kept catching myself humming some of these lines this week. Melancholy? Yes. Beautiful? Indeed.
Emily Dickinson#258There'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 –
See, a young man that was important to a lot of people in my community discovered the space between Light and Death this week. And he was way too young, and so full of faith and light. And, this week was also the tenth anniversary of the death of another young man who was my friend, and he should still be here laughing with us too. So all of this winter sunlight has seemed a bit over-bright this week, as I try to muddle through the reasons for the death of young friends. As much as I want to see that sunshine as a promise of eternity, I am stopped from that understanding by my own humanity - Dickinson captures that struggle. I keep imagining these guys as those beams of winter light, pushing away the Shadows in that strange and purple liminal twilight that only happens this time of year. And the pain is glory itself, like the light on a winter's afternoon, tragic and awesome and full of power.
M.W. and J.S., you are missed, and always will be.