Poem 320 by Emily Dickinson evokes feelings of darkness and confusion. Focused exclusively on the process of death, Dickinson opens the initial stanza by remarking about a “certain Slant of light,” as well as a “Winter afternoon”(97). While traditionally both light and weather can be symbolic for positive emotions, she chooses to distort the light and make temperature cold. Immediately, Dickinson follows by discussing the notion of oppression, followed by “Cathedral Tunes” (97). Not only does the diction reflect feelings of struggle and hardships, but the music of religion lies at the heart of the oppression. Similarly, the oxymoron of “Heavenly Hurt” contrasts Heaven, typically holy and utopian, with pain and anguish (97). She notes that internal pain does not mark one’s skin, but changes his or her character. The “Meanings,” potentially referencing life, lie within the mental struggle and the results of that internal conflict (97). This “imperial affliction,” or mourning process, cannot be taught or explained, but rather experienced first hand. As Dickson puts it, the inability to express the feelings of one’s deepest grievances marks the “Seal” of “Despair” (97). The poem, structured with short lines and rhyming couplets, concludes by addressing helplessness. Death is boundless; it has no loyalties or timeframe, as evidenced through the phrases “When it comes” and “When it goes.” Dickinson uses the final line to personify Death and depict its grasp on the physical, “landscape;” the visible, “shadows;” and the intangible,”distance” (97). The poem acts to convey a feeling of hopelessness as Dickinson views the world in a skewed manner. She feels as though Death is all encompassing and beyond the human ability to interpret and express. Therefore, grieving becomes a lonely and isolated process, which seeks to cap off the already plentiful despair.
Dickinson Poem Explication
Published inClose Reading