Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

While most readers of “The Glass Essay” interpret it as primarily a statement of feminist anger against men, Carson’s last stanzas broaden her theme of loss and love. Her use of Brontë’s work points to a gender-based comment on the separation of the woman artist from cultural conventions and demonstrates the contrasting desires of the body and the intellect. In the opening of the poem, Carson states the importance of her internal conflict, but to “talk of mind and body” begs a series of questions particularly relating to the soul. “Soul is what I kept watch on all that night” and soul is “trapped in glass,” she says, seeing family members forced to “tilt” to survive. Surviving and resolving loss take the soul through painful moments, forcing individuals to deal with the necessities of mind and body: “Soul is the place,/ stretched like a surface of millstone grit between body/ and mind,/ where such necessity grinds itself out.” As with much of her other poetic work that explores the nature of eros and loss, bodies and boundaries, Carson sees religion as part of the struggle to achieve resolution. The moment of her breakup with Law is centered “between heaven and hell”; the poet connects this to her thoughts on Brontë and states that “one way to put off loneliness is to interpose god.” Carson notes that Brontë’s poems speak to a biblical, patriarchal “Thou,” which prompts the poet to meditate and to chant Latin prayers. However, emulating Brontë, who “has gone beyond religion,” Carson says she simply needs someone to talk to at night without “the terrible sex price.”

The flesh as prison of mind and body is a dominant theme, from beginning to end a central conflict in...

(The entire section is 707 words.)