How Nature Brings Emotions of Solemnity The chief characteristic of this feeling drawn by the “slant of light” is its painful oppressiveness. “Oppresses,” “weight,” “hurt,” “despair,” and “affliction” convey this aspect. A large component in it is probably consciousness of the fact of death, though this is probably not the whole of its content nor is this consciousness necessarily fully formulated by the mind. Yet here we see the subtle connection between the hour and the mood. For the season is winter, when the year is approaching its end. And the time is late afternoon (winter afternoons are short at best, and the light slants), when the day is failing.
The suggestion of death is caught up by the weighty cathedral tunes (funeral music possiblybut hymns are also much concerned with death) and by “the distance on the look of death.” The stillness of the hour (“the landscape listens, Shadows hold their breath”) is also suggestive of the stillness of death. But besides the oppressiveness of the feeling, it has certain impressiveness too. It is weighty, solemn, and majestic, like organ music. This quality is conveyed by “weight of cathedral tunes,” “heavenly,” “seal” (suggesting the seal on some important official document), and “imperial.” This quality of the mood may be partly caused by the stillness of the moment, by the richness of the slanting sunlight (soon to be followed by sunset), and by the image of death, which it calls up.
The mood gives “heavenly” hurt. “Heavenly” suggests the immateriality of the hurt, which leaves “no scar”; the source of the sunlightthe sky; the ultimate source of both sunlight and deathGod. The hurt is given internally “where the meanings are”that is, in the soul, the psyche, or mind-that part of one which assigns “meanings”consciously or intuitivelyto life and to phenomena like this. “None may teach it anything”Both the sunlight and the mood it induces are beyond human correction or alleviation; they are final and irrevocable”sealed.”
There is no lifting this seal this despair. “When it goes, ’tis like the distance On the look of death”The lines call up the image of the stare in the eyes of a dead man, not focused, but fixed on the distance. Also, “distance” suggests the awful distance between the living and the deadpart of the implicit content of the mood. Notice that the slanted ray and the mood are still with us here, but are also going. The final remarkable image reiterates the components of the hour and the moodoppressiveness, solemnity, stillness, and death. But it hints also at reliefhopes that there will soon be a “distance” between the poet and her experience.