Poetry Analysis: Essay Five [25 out of 25, 2000/2001]


Chris Larham’s essay on There’s a Certain Slant of Light and God’s Grandeur (25 out of 25, 2000/2001) can be opened in a print-friendly text document format here
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Choose at least two other poems from the anthology and comment in detail on the features used to describe the themes of time and change
[45 minute in-class timed essay]

{Essay CONTENTS: There’s a Certain Slant of Light – introduction, context; Connotations of title; Unorthodox typography; Poetic form, versification; Conclusion: poem as metaphor for mental state; God’s Grandeur – introduction, context; Sonnet form and tone analysis; Phonological symbolism, imagery; Personified ‘nature’; Mood uplift in closing sextet; Conclusion: enjambment, spirit of mother nature.}

Using unorthodox typographical features in abundance, Emily Dickinson’s Victorian poem, There’s A Certain Slant Of Light, cryptically relates an intangible unhappiness “That oppresses”, perhaps reflecting her manic-depressive personality.[^]

The title itself sets the scene for the remainder of the poem: one cannot be entirely sure about what Dickinson is writing – she appears to have deliberately left it open to interpretation. For example, on a basic level it could be a poem about an upsetting ‘Slant of Light’; on a deeper level, perhaps she is attempting to articulate the sudden mood swings she was renowned for experiencing… there are many possible connotations.[^]

Unorthodox typography is used throughout the poem, from the “There’s a certain Slant of light,/Winter Afternoons” opening, to the “…’tis like the Distance,/On the look of death. Dickinson appears to capitalise words at random, but to her these abstract (Distance, Cathedral Tunes, Heavenly Hurt) ideas seem to take an important place in her relation of unhappiness.[^]

An apparently settled poetic form and versification (four stanzas, each four lines long), is- on closer inspection- latently the exact opposite. Examples of this are the unordered rhyme scheme (as it switches from half-rhyme A – “light” – B, half rhyme A – “Heft” – B in the first stanza, to No rhyme, B, No rhyme, B in the third), and slightly offbeat syllabic structure (7, 5, 7, 5/7, 5, 7, 5/6, 5, 8, 5/8, 5, 8, 5). This adds to the overall indecisive, panicky effect of Dickinson’s poem/mental state.[^]

The fact that the poem ends with a bizarre, unfinished “On the look of death -” , appears to underline the idea that this poem- drawing, as it does, heavily on unhappy, sometimes morbid imagery- is, in reality, a metaphor for Dickinson’s mental state – ever-changing, never stable.[^]

On the other hand, by seemingly running through the detrimental effect man’s Victorian industrialisation has had on nature – “God’s Grandeur” – and ending on a positive note, Gerald Manley Hopkins appears to be in an altogether happier frame of mind.[^]

Using an 8/6 sonnet split {ABBA,ABBA/CDCDCD}– and a mix of the Petrarchan/Elizabethan forms- Hopkins observes the traditional sonnet style in pausing for thought after his opening octave, and- having left a line, showing he has given the matter some serious consideration- continuing in a different tone for the remaining sextet.[^]

Using imagery symbolic of the industrialisation that was happening at the time, Hopkins laments man’s efforts to better himself at the expense of nature. “Crushed… Generations have trod, have trod, have trod” provides a parallel with the repetitive sound of technological progression – a mechanical, monotonous sound.[^]

“the grandeur of God” becomes a personified nature, which mankind apparently disrespects in the line, “And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell…” – nature and man are as one, but it’s not a happy union.[^]

However, the closing sextet sees an uplift in Hopkins’ mood, with him declaratively stating that nature will outlast the human affliction, in the form of an industrially-linked pun, “nature is never spent”.[^]

Ideas of sunrise, renewal and God’s prevalent force are apparent in the line, “Oh, morning, at the brown brink of eastward springs-”, with the final two lines running into each other through the use of enjambment – providing a parallel with the ongoing spirit of mother nature.[^]

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Forty-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, learning programming languages, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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Posted in AS Level English [A1]

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