A certain slant of light: Stanley and “Terrace Landscapes”

Looking at and through “Terrace Landscapes”

I am very grateful to Meredith Quartermain for her essay, George Stanley: The Metaphysics of Place, and to Reg Johansen for his essay, “Who Marks the Changes?”: George Stanley at The End/The Beginning, in the current issue of TCR. Why am I grateful? Because they both write about one of the great Stanley poems, “Terrace Landscapes,” best described by Quartermain as “the long, major meditation on language, place, knowledge, and landscape…” (181).

In my favourite passage in the poem Stanley writes:

Reading Emily Dickinson in class. Things that happen make up a day. Rain and wind. ‘A slant of light.’ The rain starts & stops, the sun almost peeps through.

Stanley is asking the reader to think about Dickinson as relevant and contemporary, is asking the reader to go and read Dickinson again because there is something that Stanley wants to say. And every time I read “Terrace Landscapes,” I go and read “There’s a certain slant of light.” Dickinson writes:

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons–
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes–

In making the connection to Dickinson, and in expression the allusion or metaphor in the way he does, Stanley says that underneath this sense of surface monotony, the “…Things that happen/make up a day…” that fill his poem, is the presence of the same dark matter of Dickinson’s poem. Just as in reading this poem, he seems to be saying, the reader must always look through the surface of language, of place, of knowledge, of landscape to the thing lurking behind it: the void. And the void is ubiquitous, and can be made manifest in the mind by anything, including a poem, at any time, including right now.

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