“The Glass Essay” is an ambitious, inventive, thirty-eight-page series of interrelated poetic montages and meditations on the loss of love. This central theme is developed using three interwoven sets of images: memories of the life and works of nineteenth century English novelist Emily Brontë, memories of the author’s family, and visions concerning the nature of poetry. Using short prose passages, triplet line structure, one-word subheadings, and short sentences floating in white space, Anne Carson intermingles dreams, memories, family portraits, and quotations from Brontë’s letters and diary papers to explore the nature of gender, the artistry of writing, and, most importantly, the painful feelings in the aftermath of lost love. With these juxtaposed streams emphasizing the place of the mind and body in human relationships, the poem begins and ends with two perspectives on the female body, the central image of the poem.
The poem begins at four o’clock in the morning in a dream, followed by the poem’s first glass or mirror image: “my face in the bathroom mirror/ has white streaks down it.” The setting then moves to the house of the poet’s mother where the three central women of the poem—the poet, her mother, and Brontë—are compared and contrasted, showing three generational perspectives regarding self-identity and relationships with men. Carson begins weaving her tropes by stating that visits with her mother make her fear that she is becoming Brontë, and she compares her kitchen to the moors in Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights (1847). Kitchen imagery—the dining table, food in the refrigerator, the mother eating toast—represent conventional expectations of women. The narrator’s mother believes modern bathing suits arouse men, dislikes feminists, and tells her daughter that she should have worked more on her relationships with men, particularly the poet’s five-year affair with the principal lover of her past named Law. This criticism prompts the poet into a meditation on Brontë’s interest in “watching” from the cliffs on the moors and feeling imprisoned in a world of men. Brontë, the daughter of a clergyman trapped by strict Victorian conventions, walks the moor,...
(The entire section is 909 words.)