Home > poets > Stained Glass (in ‘The Wall & Beyond’ by Joanna Kurowska)

Stained Glass (in ‘The Wall & Beyond’ by Joanna Kurowska)

mark cries loud

in the train, an old woman nibbles on a bun

eva washes her long copper hair
in the karaśnik lake

the wolves howl
inside the stove’s throat

When reading this small poem, one gets the impression fairly soon that there is nothing whatsoever that binds these four lines together. For a moment, we presume that the narrator sits in a train with Mark and the old woman on the bench before her. And maybe, the train passes the Karasnik lake and the narrator sees through the window that eva is washing her long copper hair?

That sounds a bit weird however. And the last line blocks this hypothesis altogether: there are no stoves in or close to a train. Hence, the idea that one person is making four observations during a single stretch of time on a train makes little sense. Again, the reader is left alone with four unrelated items (and wonders where mark is crying loud). Apart from a single consciousness making four disparate reflections (fictive or not), nothing binds those lines together. Still, they deserve a closer look.

For one thing, note the two proper names Mark and Eva (or rather, mark and eva – uncapitalised). We have no reason to believe that the writer knows these persons. Nor does this small poem elaborate their characters. They do nothing, besides indulging in one single action (if that is how we might call ‘crying’). Probably, they are utterly anonymous to the writer, and remain so to us. Why then proper names?

Proper names are an easy way to vivify the (fictional) presence of the persons named. Also, they tend to intensify the engagement of a person in whatever he’s doing. But do they fit into this bare context? I believe they do. They highlight the tension between anonymity and personality that is at stake in this little poem (and maybe, by extension, in ‘The Wall & Beyond’ as a whole). The uncapitalised proper names mark this tension as well, in the reversed manner.

A second reflection concerning the four observations in this poem is that they are not familiar to the same degree. Seeing a kid crying in a train is a much more common event than witnessing a woman who washes her hair in a lake. Certainly when that hair is copper; a colour that makes me think of the rather unearthly Pre-Raphaelites. And hearing the wolves howl inside the stove’s throat sounds almost morose.

Hence the lines become stranger the more we move through the poem. And when you read it twice, some of this strangeness is catapulted back to the first two lines, seeding the familiar with the bizarre (which is another theme in ‘The Wall & Beyond’).

And one could go further. Why is the title stained glass? Religion is definitely another theme in ‘The Wall & Beyond’. Just imagine the four images of this poem represented in the window of a church. I won’t go further into this religious aspect now. And did you notice the similarity between mark’s cry and the howl of wolves, between the old woman nibbling and the throat of the stove?

It’s hard to do more in a few lines.

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  1. October 6, 2014 at 17:25
  2. October 7, 2014 at 00:15

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