The Glass Essay

by Anne Carson

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 528

You remember too much,
my mother said to me recently.

Why hold onto all that? And I said,
Where can I put it down?
She shifted to a question about airports.

In this quote, the speaker reveals herself to be haunted by memories in a way that does not feel like a choice. The interaction with the mother distinguishes the two women and their attitudes toward life. For the speaker, remembering is a weight she carries, but it is not a choice to carry it: "Where can I put it down?" For the mother, remembering is a conscious decision, a holding, one which she finds unnecessary. We also observe the mother's avoidance, in keeping with her less obsessive memory, in this last line. Rather than address the speaker's challenge to her statement, the mother changes the subject to something more ordinary and less contentious.

Anger travels through me, pushes aside everything else in my heart,
pouring up the vents.
Every night I wake to this anger,

the soaked bed,
the hot pain box slamming me each way I move.
I want justice. Slam.

I want an explanation. Slam.
I want to curse the false friend who said I love you forever. Slam.

This part of "The Glass Essay" communicates raw emotion very directly, and in charged ways, as opposed to the more intellectual style of the rest of the poem. The speaker experiences anger as an all-encompassing emotion, one that supersedes "everything else" she may feel or think. It is active, traveling through her, and it is constant: "Every night I wake to this anger." She characterizes the anger, which makes her sweat so much it leaves the bed "soaked," as "pouring." So it pours not only out of her heart but out of her body as well. Her heart, activated in this way, becomes a "hot pain box," not her center but her enemy, "slamming" her repeatedly. Desire—these three things she lists as things she wants—is torturous and enraging. The anger leads, in the third instance, to her wanting revenge on the lover, "false" because he made a promise he did not keep.

How did Emily come to lose faith in humans?
She admired their dialects, studied their genealogies,
"but with them she rarely exchanged a word."

Her introvert nature shrank from shaking hands with someone she met on the moor.
What did Emily know of lover's lies or cursive human faith?

As the speaker reads Emily Brontë's novel and poems, she becomes curious about Emily as a person. The speaker is confused about how Emily may have developed her strong stances about love, men, and revenge despite being a hermit and lacking in romantic relationships. From afar, Emily was interested in humans on a macro scale, in their "dialects" and "genealogies." But the speaker infers from her melodramatic writing that in some way Emily lost "faith" in them. Though the speaker's questions cannot be answered, they pose an interesting thought experiment for the reader and frame Emily's writing in a new light. The last line also implies that the speaker herself, unlike Emily, does indeed know of "lover's lies" and "cursive human faith."

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