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Sally Cook, Imperial Affliction; acrylic on stretched canvas, hand-painted frame, 16 inches x 20 inches; Image courtesy of artist

Sally Cook, Imperial Affliction; acrylic on stretched canvas, hand-painted frame, 16 inches x 20 inches; Image courtesy of artist

From the poem "There's a Certain Slant of Light" ca. 1861 by Emily Dickenson:

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons -
That opposes 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 reach 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 -

 

"Light affects every living thing.  A slant of light can be expected to affect each particular person in a very different way, with added emphasis and subtlety if that person is, as Emily was, a poet.

 

A poem or painting can contain light. The winter light of this poem speaks of loss, of time gone and even of timelessness. Emily Dickinson experienced it within her father's house. In my portrait "Imperial Affliction", I paint her cloistered in her own private bedchamber, that odd light straining itself through a sheer curtain and falling on her hair and face, her carpet, work table and walls as she peers across to Austin and his wife Sue's house. It bounces off the snow, creating a sense of loss for Emily, who has no husband and children of her own, possessing in fact only the hopes of literary and spiritual immortality. 

One can hope for a moment, or forever - that is when time stands still.

I am a child of winter. In that childhood, I have always recognized this certain slant of winter afternoon sunlight, and have often thought that to be alone in an upper room on a cold Sunday afternoon with that peculiar light streaming in was more ghostly than to be in a dark room on a night in October.

When I first read this poem I thought here is another bond with Emily. She and I have both experienced the Victorian father, and are always looking past adversity to a better time. We both have a certain sparse style to our work which, though timeless, simultaneously attracts and aggravates. Neither of us can work any other way.

We have been struck by the beams of a certain slant of light.  It is indeed an imperial affliction."

-Sally Cook