The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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.

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...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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,...

(The entire section is 542 words.)