Poems Are like Stained Glass Windows

8 Oct

Trying to work through something quite complicated…

The sky above us was a pristine-sparkle-shimmer blue, so much so that every object pressed against it seemed to be made more explicit-cut out. The sun was edgy-bright,  and its fresh rays shimmered across everything, which made the contrast of the cool, damp cathedral more apparent when we stepped inside. The texture of the air changed-everything became more dense and weighty,

–the service will start in 10 minutes, so you’d better be quick if you don’t want to attend– said the gargoyle-knarled attendant

We walked under the colonnade, quickly,  people started to fill the space, and light shot in-pebble-dashed through the stained glass window to our left,  and then, and then, we stopped. Still. We looked to our right, and there spread across the stone-smooth floor was this:

The patchwork-light coming from the stained glass window was extraordinary. It stopped you in your tracks.It took hold of your breath and made you feel. Wonderment. The otherworldliness of the setting shimmered before you.  The light in relation to the colour made you feel.  Extraordinary. The picture doesn’t do the feeling it gave you justice. Transformation.


Goethe said ‘Gedichte sind wie gemalte Wensterscheiben’. Poetry is  like painted stained glass windows.

Just as the stained glass window maker takes small lozenges of coloured glass  and places them- lead-to-lead- in carefully arranged patterns and creates a whole form (from lozenge, to section, to pane), a poem, a whole complete entity, is pieced together out of carefully chosen pieces (letters, words, sentences, verses). Carefully chosen and particular, the words imbued with emotion and thought by the poet, and then carefully unpacked and re-interpreted by the reader.

Similarly, as the light slick-slacks through the glass,  through the different sections, it illuminates and enlivens a whole- a complete story, or a moment taken from the whole. The stained glassed window is dead without the light.  A poem is dead without the reader. It needs to be illuminated/interpreted, to  have meaning pass through it.  And as the light shines through it and illuminates,  a transformational process occurs. Just like a poem: as we read and we put meaning into it something metamorphic happens- as we place our own meaning into it and let it spread like light through us and turn into something beyond us. The matter that takes your breath away and feel:  like looking at the stone-smooth floor and the shimmering kaleidoscope of colour.

The connections and the patterning all take you somewhere beyond what you’re seeing. You leap ‘out of the static into the dynamic’, Kandinsky.


In his theory of colour Goethe paid particular attention to what he called the ‘after image’, the way colour shapes perception as our brains process what we are seeing, making connections and what those connections create…the after image…. The reflection on  the floor, I think, is like an ‘after-image’. It’s the trail of meaning. How we interpret the blotches of light and the patterning, how our brain and our subjective history imbues the patterning with individual meaning,  is what the window is-not the form itself.  And that particular interpretation and response changes infinitely from person to person, and according to what is going on outside in the world, in nature-as the clouds pass by, as the sun comes out a little bit more. It is all shifting and morphing, and fresh to each person each time. The image, the story portrayed in the glass, is refreshed-never the same.  Over and over again.


Vincent Van Gogh said that ‘poetry surrounds us everywhere’. And the hues of colour  that spread across the cathedral floor made you feel like that.


More Information regarding Bridget Riley


With any piece of poetry or piece of writing, or painting the form matters, the contents matters, what your putting in matters, but I think maybe, it is the ‘after-image’, what is left with you afterwards that  lasts. It’s the mish-mash of ideas and thoughts and feelings that you take with you after you’ve left the form. It’s the inspiration it gives you, or the new way of looking at the world, that sticks. And of course, of course,  you need the form to create it but it’s the going-beyond that that really matters. Doesn’t it?  It’s what you take away and what image sticks with you-or shape-or brush stroke or stitch, or tone.


I suppose what I’m trying to say, to suggest, or attempt to engage with, is that any form of creativity, and the process of that creativity is like light passing through a stained glass window;  a process of transformation from form-to meaning and interpretation to afterglow/after-image. All creativity goes through a process of transformation and leaves an ‘after-image’- whether it’s knitting, putting a car back together, cooking, spraying a curve onto a wall in order to shape a letter… again bits of  ‘something’ are placed in relation to each other and a form made.  The synthesis of  all of that becomes the work. The synthesis occurs not only in the artist/creator doing the creating but also  more amazingly (maybe) in the viewer/perceiver viewing or reading or engaging with the piece of creativity.

I feel like I’m not explaining this very well, that I’m muddying the waters of something that is actually quite simple.  I’m trying to explain a clear precise process of transformation from form, from thing, to  the completely subjective and the spiritual. A cathedral is a perfect place for stained glass and creativity-something that is in us all, in its own way, a source from which you can draw. We are the cathedral, and our creativity is the light. Still.


Here’s what Brian Clarke, a stained glass window artist says:

‘When you see the movement of light passing through stained glass and caressing the surfaces, the shaft of light the trans-illumination touches, it triggers something involuntary in almost anybody. Once that movement has been seen people are moved by it’

Brian Clarke’s website

When we were standing in Ely Cathedral it was not the stained glass window itself that moved us it was the trans-illumination, the bit in between and the bit afterwards, that made us feel.

We turned our back on the pebble-dash of colour, and the glow of the candles placed on the altar under the ochre octagon. We heard our feet, hollow-tap on the smooth stone floor and I gingerly turned the age-old metal handle on the exit door and stepped out into the bright, pristine sunshine once more.  Transformed.

What sort of processes does your creativity go through?

How is meaning created within your creativity?

What sort of after- image does your creativity leave?

How do you want it to make people feel?

I’d like to know……..

All the very best!

5 Responses to “Poems Are like Stained Glass Windows”

  1. orwell531 October 9, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Schaetzchen, This is beautiful and excellent, thank you! Such a joy for me to read. Love, Mum

  2. Storefront Glass Installation Brooklyn November 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    Magnificent post. I’m in love with the way you described how comforting the light coming in from the stained glass windows can feel. I remember such a feeling from when I used to attend church.

    -Solomon Berkovitch

    • ArtiPeep November 13, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

      Thank you so much for communicating your appreciation of my post. The light experience in Ely was quite profound and I wanted to share that. Words aren’t quite enough though…I value your interest and hope you come back and see what we’re creating here at ArtiPeeps. All the very best!


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