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Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

“Stain of Light”

by John Stocks
and Don Webb

In Oonah’s fine poem the author uses a sustained metaphor of a stained glass window to mirror a broader decline in faith. There is initial irony and reflective humility in her description of how her ‘Shattered shards of fractured light’ ‘illuminate sacred text’.

However the window then assumes the role of prophet, presenting the ultimate miracle, the essential test of faith. ‘Christ arisen’ claiming empathy through its own construction with the fragility and omnipotence of Christ: ‘fragile and invincible, set aloft’.

The clever juxtaposition of ‘son’ and ‘sun’ and the use of the Greek, ‘Kyrie eleison’, a phrase which predates orthodox Christian worship, intimates a link to old religion and reminds the reader that the essence of all religion is faith.

In the second stanza there is hubris; the church in both its physical and metaphysical manifestations has been ravaged by time:

There is no mercy in time’s sacrilege.
Centuries ground to fusty pews,
degraded mortar, silent hymns, prayers
all forgotten, past.

The lesson is that, in the end our artifice is only as sustainable as the faith that shaped the shards, and the reader is left stranded in a spiritual wasteland of, ‘silent hymns’.

An evocative and memorable contribution, Oonah.

Copyright © 2010 by John Stocks

Issue 378 was as close as Bewildering Stories could come to Easter this year. “Stain of Light” seemed appropriate not only as an occasional poem but also as an indirect reflection of current events involving the Roman Catholic church in particular.

But current events are only current: sins can be repented of, and “degraded mortar” can be replaced. At the beginning and the end, as you rightly emphasize, the poem reminds the reader of what is truly timeless.

“Stain of Light” is a powerful poem. But why? Because of the topic? No, the topic is all too easy to treat very badly. Almost every week I have to decline politely submissions that I suggest might be better suited to websites specializing in inspirational literature. Any topic may be important for personal or cultural reasons, but a topic alone does not make a poem.

The answer appears in every Readers’ Guide as our official motto: “Poems are not made with ideas, they are made with words.” Where, then, do the words come from? Where can inspiration be found? It’s very simple, really: the poet must stand aside and let the poem write itself. Only then, when the poet sacrifices the egocentric “I” — even in first-person narration — and turns outward to the world, does the reader understand what the author feels. In practical terms, writers must do in their own small way what “Josh” does in Marina J. Neary’s “Undisclosed Temptation,” in this issue.

“Stain of Light” achieves coherence by using a simple rhetorical device: personification. The poet takes the point of view of the stained glass window and lets it speak. The resulting imagery of “shattered shards of fractured light” and the “leaden heart” can be viewed in various ways. Do the broken glass and the heavy heart signify despair? Yes, but that’s by no means all. The varicolored glass and lead caulking also make the beauty and strength of a stained glass window. In the end, Oonah’s poem becomes an image not only of what it represents but also of itself and of all memorable poetry: it transmits light of many colors.

What I’ve said about Oonah’s poem also applies to your poems generally, John. And it also applies to the best poems of several other contributors I could name. You have all helped build what I have grown fond of calling our Golden Age of poetry.


Copyright © 2010 by Don Webb

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