May 1, 2011

Emily Dickinson Had it All Wrong

Emily Dickinson had it all wrong. Well, not all wrong—just one line of one poem. I will not forsake my favorite poetess for only one small error; at least it’s an error by my estimation.

In her poem, “A Certain Slant of Light,” Ms. Dickinson speaks of the “slant of light” on a winter’s afternoon as oppressive, “like the heft of cathedral tunes,” she says. This image always makes me think of the book, “A Wrinkle In Time” (now there’s a quantum leap!) where, at one point, Meg and her heroic friends find themselves on a 2-dimensional planet being squished by gravity, not able to breath, feeling their bodies being crushed—only in my strange musing, there is no organ music.

Is late afternoon light oppressive? I think that Ms. Dickinson would have had a very different feeling had she lived in western Oregon or Washington State. Here, sunshine is like a happiness drug—a giddy elixir of rare joy—one that is legal, cheap, easily administered once you have it, and in very limited supply.

This past year, we have had a—dare I use such a strong word as I am thinking?—dismal time with grey skies. Back when summer came to visit us in 2010, I was okay with the still-grey and drizzly skies it brought along following a wet winter and spring.

I wasn’t ready for our wet winter and spring to be over, anyway, since both had afforded many opportunities for very cozy afternoons and evenings indeed. Coffee, hot soup, non-stop knitting … sometimes you just don’t want it to end. And sometimes you do.

After the wet summer of 2010 came wet fall, then cold and wet winter followed by a crazy-hail, cold, wet, thunderstormy spring in 2011. All grey, no exceptions. Even I, who grew up accustomed to this weather, began to have dreary, sleepy moods. I started wondering if I was developing a vitamin-D deficiency, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is relatively commonplace where I live.

Then, after seemingly endless months of cloudy skies and record-breaking precipitation, came a few days of late afternoon sun. They came like old friends--like old and cherished, but forgotten, memories that are brought back to mind by a photograph found in a shoe box by chance.

These days were not all in a row—they weren’t even close together. But they were powerful.

During each precious hour of that sun, I made it a point to sit in my favorite antique rocking chair with my two large knitting baskets around me on the floor, and a project in my hands. I set my small clock radio to the local classical station and gave it just enough volume to be heard, but not a distraction. I put my feet up on my little padded, Victorian floral-fabric box, which serves as both storage container and ottoman.

The right side of the chair is next to a west facing window with white wooden blinds. On those afternoons, the bright, late-day sun shone through the slats, onto my face and across my lap. Some people think the light at this time of day has too much glare, but not me—especially not after so many months of gloom.

With each visit to my special spot, I would look at the yarn in my hands—acrylic or wool, cotton or bamboo, and observe the intricate array of colors unveiled by the brilliant illumination. In other light, there may have been only one or two colors evident, but in this light, even the fibers with the simplest hues became like bursting prisms. I watched the yarn wind and twine around itself with each stitch, becoming more beautiful with each lost moment of sinking sun.

As I worked, I felt the light and warmth—almost heat—on my face as the sun passed through the glass of the window. By this time of day--about six or seven o’clock--its color was no longer the bright, simpler white of midday. Over time it had become golden, complex and inviting.

It cast deep shadows, dynamically lengthening, making ordinary things seem extraordinary. It was as though the sun had started out in the morning a young and inexperienced child, and was now a weathered sage, grown in wisdom and strength over its daylong journey. I imagined it was trying to share its discoveries and secrets with me, caressing my cheek and warming my hands before it would have to tell me good bye.

As the light sank lower and lower into the depths of the horizon, I sat unmoved, wishing the light would not leave me. It did eventually, of course, but not with a cold or empty feeling.

The next time you have an opportunity, take a moment to reflect in the late afternoon light, slanted though it may be. You may not feel oppressed, as Emily Dickinson did, but you may lose track of time. You may become contemplative and deeply content for a time. And you may never view “talking about the weather” in the same way again.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's 6 o'clock. I must be getting to my chair.


Anonymous said...

Ah, would that Emily had a more developed poetic heart and mind as Janelle does......


The Knitting Muse said...

You're hilarious. : )

Mokihana said...

You are a gifted writer... I so appreciate your words about the sun here. And "A Wrinkle in Time"? ONe of my favorite books ever!!