Dec. 10, 2001

258 There's a certain Slant of light,

by Emily Dickinson

367 Over and over, like a Tune

by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

by Wendy Cope

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Emily Dickinson," by Wendy Cope from Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (Faber and Faber), and "There's a certain Slant of light," and "Over and over, like a Tune," by Emily Dickinson from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (Little Brown and Company).

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.

Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.

There's a certain Slant of light

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—

Over and over, like a Tune

Over and over, like a Tune—
The Recollection plays—
Drums off the Phantom Battlements
Cornets of Paradise—

Snatches, from Baptized Generations—
Cadences too grand
But for the Justified Processions
At the Lord's Right hand.

It's the birthday of poet Carolyn Kizer, born in Spokane, Washington (1925). Her books of poetry include The Ungrateful Garden (1961), Mermaids in the Basement (1984), and Cool, Calm, & Collected: Poems 1960-2000 (2000). She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for her collection Yin (1984).

It's the birthday of illustrator Ernest Howard Shepard, born in St. John's Wood, London (1879). He studied art, won competitions, and became an illustrator for the magazine Punch. In 1924, he was asked by the editors of Punch to illustrate a poem called "When We Were Very Young," by a writer named A. A. Milne. Soon afterwards, he was invited to illustrate Milne's book Winnie the Pooh (1926).

It's the birthday of librarian Melvil Dewey, born in Adams Center, New York (1851). While working as an assistant librarian at Amherst College, he invented a new library classification system which became known as the Dewey Decimal System. He went on to help found the American Library Association, edit Library Journal, and establish librarianship as a modern profession. In 1887, he founded the world's first library school, at Columbia College in New York. He was also a campaigner for the adoption of the metric system and for spelling reform. His system of spelling was mostly phonetic, and survives in popular misspellings like "nite" and "lite." For a while, he spelled his own last name "D-u-i."

It's the birthday of Hoosier novelist Edward Eggleston, born in Vevay, Indiana (1837). His first and most famous novel was The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871), about life in backwoods Indiana. His other novels include The End of the World (1872) and The Mystery of Metropolisville (1873), based on his stay in Cannon City, Minnesota, during the land boom of the mid-1850's. He wrote more novels, and near the end of his life he turned to writing history. His History of Life in the United States (1896) was an early contribution to the new field of social history.

It's the birthday of Emily Dickinson, born in Amherst, Massachusetts (1830). Her father was a lawyer and long-time treasurer of Amherst College. After spending a year at Mount Holyoke Female Academy when she was 16, she returned to her home in Amherst, where she lived as a virtual recluse for the rest of her life. She began to create small volumes of her own poetry, written out on sheets of folded stationery and hand-stitched at the spine. She received her greatest encouragement from the critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson, though she wouldn't allow him to publish any of her poems, which went unpublished until after her death in 1886. She seldom allowed any adults to visit her, but she adored children. She was known to tie pieces of candy to a string and lower them from her bedroom window to children waiting in the garden below. When Higginson asked her to send him her portrait, she gave this description of herself: "I am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr, and my eyes like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves. Would this do just as well?"

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »