Sunday, May 28, 2017

There's a Certain Slant of Light

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My first semester of college, I took a course titled "Women In Literature". In hindsight, I was expecting a some kind of angry, militant feminist sharing the undervalued works of women long dead served with a side of "fight the patriarchy" and garnished with just a sprinkle of misandry. I was wrong. My Professor came in and the first words out of her mouth were an invitation to leave for anyone who took the course wanting that instead of a course studying the works of women in Literature. One girl left. Over the next semester, I would learn about literature written by women in a way I never had before. It isn't that they weren't acknowledged, but if my memory serves me well the ratio of female authors to male on the public school English curriculum, especially in the Midwest, is hardly equal. My professor astounded me and I learned a lot from her. Poetry has always been a mystery to me until that course. At some point, I came to believe that poetry was all metaphors and allusions. I read things with the ever present feeling that it was about something more, but I wasn't smart enough to understand the imagery or never knew enough about the author to know what was being alluded to. Then we read Emily Dickinson. 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 – We read it outloud. Then she asked us what we thought the poem was about. The answers ranged from "her father" to "death". She let the class give their answers before saying... "It's about a slant of light". I read and reread it, for all of the things the poem talks about later it is really about a slant of light. That course shifted how I look at poetry and my comprehension of it. The first line of that poem has stayed with me throughout the years. I think about that certain slant of light when something I had not been able to see or notice under normal conditions is illuminated. Sometimes it seems you can know someone for years, and one day the planets align and a certain slant of light highlights something in their character. It is in these moments that the perception you have of who that person is shifts. Sometimes people shine in the light. Other times, the revelation changes your perception and shifts a person right off of the pedestal you had placed them on. Sometimes the shift is indiscernible until you catch yourself looking for signs or red flags that what you saw in the light was always there, just perhaps well camouflaged. Sometimes, that certain slant of light changes things and it is hard to pretend you didn't see something and go back to a time when you didn't see it.

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