Emily Does the Dutch Tilt: Dickinson’s Cinematic Techniques

Emily Dickinson’s speakers sometimes lament their “gross” (365) or “finite” (336) eyes, but it’s the limitations inherent to the “embodied eye” that create the remarkable effect of her poem, “The Angle of a Landscape” (375):

The Angle of a Landscape—
That every time I wake—
Between my Curtain and the Wall
Upon an ample Crack—

Like a Venetian—waiting—
Accosts my open eye—
Is just a Bough of Apples—
Held slanting, in the Sky—

The Pattern of a Chimney—
The Forehead of a Hill—
Sometimes—a Vane’s Forefinger—
But that’s—Occasional—

The Seasons—shift—my Picture—
Upon my Emerald Bough,
I wake—to find no—Emeralds—
Then—Diamonds—which the Snow

From Polar Caskets—fetched me—
The Chimney—and the Hill—
And just the Steeple’s finger—
These—never stir at all—

Dickinson does not merely name the things she sees, but instead describes how they appear to her from her unusual perspective: a curtain-and-wall cropped swath of landscape, viewed from her bed. As a result, she sees only “the Forehead of the Hill,” a bit of a chimney (reduced to a “pattern” of bricks) and, occasionally, the pointer of a weather vane, when the wind blows the right way.

Moreover, because she’s horizontal, the “Bough of Apples” appears slanted in the sky, much like the dutch angle we see so often in film, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to classic noir films, to the 60s TV version of Batman.


Still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

In the 4th stanza, Dickinson underscores the framed/cropped aspect of her description, calling it “my Picture,” and takes us through a sort of time-lapse photography sequence, as the bough changes from season to season, from the “Emeralds” of spring to the “Diamonds” of winter.

Cropping, extreme camera angles, and a time lapse sequence: all visual techniques that, while not unexampled in literature, are certainly striking in this instance, written long before technology made them ubiquitous.

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