The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 586

“Woman at Lit Window” is a reflective inquiry in which poet Eamon Grennan considers the possibilities of accurately rendering the details and nuances of a woman he is observing from outside her window while assessing the factors that make it impossible for him to ever quite capture the full dimensions of his vision. The poem consists of three stanzas of roughly equal length (ten, eleven, and twelve lines) divided by a partition of blank space but joined by the continuation of a statement after the line break. Its mood of quiet reflection is established by the contemplative tone that the poet employs in the first line—“Perhaps if she stood for an hour like that”—which creates a feeling of extended time and suspended motion. However, in an almost immediate introduction of opposing impulses, the poet mentions that he would also have to “stand in the dark/ just looking” at the woman, something he doubts he could “stand” to do. The lure of precision carries his thoughts toward a contemplation of the possible components of his verbal portrait, details of such exquisite precision (“etch/ of the neck in profile, the white/ and violet shell of the ear”) that he is held in a kind of rapture of meditation before he considers how his subject might react if she became aware of his presence.

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Although he knows that he is invisible to the woman’s gaze, his curiosity about what he would do “if she starts/ on that stage of light/ taking her clothes off” unsettles him as the barrier that has kept them physically separate is breached by the power of a creative imagination. At this point, the poet is unable to retain objectivity as an observer concerned only with an accurate rendition. The relationship between them—even if in his mind—has been altered so that even though she “frowns out at nothing or herself/ in the glass,” totally oblivious to the observer, he cannot quite return to the mood that initiated his desire for a perfect portrait. While he still believes that given sufficient time and a lack of distraction he might be able to “get some of the real details down,” he is now aware of the inevitable intrusion of some distraction that will make this impossible. As he continues to muse about the ideal conditions that would permit him to approach his goal, the woman “lowers the blind,” cutting off his actual view of her in the window. As the second stanza ends, the woman is “turning away” and “leaving a blank” that is accentuated by the space between the stanzas.

The third stanza fills in the blank space, denoting it as an “ivory square of brightness,” an empty frame glowing with potential. This shifts the focus of the poem, which has been wavering between the poet and the woman in the window, entirely to the poet. The energy released by the image of the woman charges the poet’s mind so that everything around him is transformed by the power of vision. The poet, now the primary subject of his own contemplation and illuminated by a “half moon” that casts his shadow on the path to his home, moves amid a glow of cosmic radiance. Its source is in the natural world (“a host of fireflies”), but its impact is considerably enhanced by the exultation of his creative consciousness, which sees in the features of the landscape a miraculous essence that defies description but compels an effort to convey its beauty.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

In “Woman at Lit Window,” Grennan moves between moments of reflection and contemplation, in which he considers the possibilities of capturing the essence of the striking image he is observing, and moments of lyric effusion, in which he is reacting directly to and then is almost consumed by the transformative power of the image itself. The poem is structured by the modulation of moods, beginning in a mood of meditation and concluding in an ethos of ecstasy, and is controlled by the alteration, juxtaposition, and intermixture of images of luminescence and darkness. The pattern of imagery is set at the start, with the poet “in the dark” and the woman in the window on “a stage of light.” The woman then moves out of the spotlight, leaving “a blank ivory square”—that is, illumination without definition. This is a pivotal point in the poem, a moment of pause and a turn away from the poet’s contemplation of the woman and toward a sense of himself as an illuminated object. The light that lingers flows beyond the “stage,” less intense but equally captivating, a natural light issuing from the moon and from the pinpoint flashes of fireflies.

The psychological mood of the poet corresponds to the changing light, and Grennan expresses these changes by controlling the tone of the poem, beginning with a meditative, tentative utterance and finishing with a flourish of lyric exuberance but mixing both the lyric mode and the more reflective, philosophical one throughout the poem. The language that he employs at the start is conditional, his ambition qualified by words such as “Perhaps” and “might” and phrases such as “I think I could.” His course of action is speculative (“I stand wondering what I’ll do”), but, amid this uncertainty, his responses to the image are already vibrant, the description he envisions (and actually offers) vivid and evocative: “I might get it right, every/ fine line in place: the veins of the hand/ reaching up to the blind cord.” In this description, there is a sense of subdued excitement mingled with an air of expectancy and then tinged with mild regret and disappointment at the woman’s disappearance. As the poet becomes the central subject of the poem, the meditative mode is eventually submerged in the lyrical one. The philosophical cast of the poet’s mind is still apparent in his cautious return through the shadowy darkness, but the ecstatic, elevated condition of his spirit is revealed by his fascination with the soft but significant light generators (the half moon and the fireflies). His sensory description of the “fragrant silence” that surrounds him, his identification with the fireflies in their “native ease,” and his response to the heartbeatlike “pulse of light” produced by these fireflies illustrate the extent to which the hesitancy of the opening lines has been superseded by the light-generated powers of vision and inspiration. Grennan’s description of his shadow—a projection of the self “skinned with grainy radiance”—suggests that he feels his place is still “to stand in the dark”; this darkness, however, is not total, and a keen eye can register gradations that are as interesting in the muted natural light as they are in the artificial blaze emanating from the window.

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Themes