Books and Code · A Miscellany

A Carafe, That is a Blind Glass (An Interpretation)


In my last post I reviewed Gertrude Stein’s poetry collection, Tender Buttons. It is a collection of prose poems about mundane objects, but described in very obtuse ways. It is split into three sections: Objects, Food, and Rooms.

In this post, I want to do a close reading of the first poem in the book, “A Carafe, that is a Blind Glass,” to show what Stein is trying to do in this little book which I’ve dubbed “pointer hell.” Here is the text of the poem (which is now public domain by the way):


A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

Whoa. If you’re anything like me, the first time you read that it sounded like word salad. But can we extract any meaning at all from it?

A carafe, that is a blind glass. Let’s start with the title and imagine this poem is the poetic equivalent of a still life piece of art. “A carafe” is pretty straightforward, that’s the object the poem is about, but what is a blind glass? Well, carafes are often made of glass and are like glasses which hold liquid. Perhaps it is “blind” because it is not transparent or it is filled with dark liquid, thus it cannot be seen though; it is “blind.” It is a kind of thing that is made in glass. It is a cousin because it is like a drinking glass, but different.

It is a spectacle because we are looking at the thing, but perhaps also because it is like the lens of a pair of eyeglasses (aka. spectacles). Light can pass through it and be distorted. But, it is nothing strange, just a regular old carafe.

Red wine inside the carafe could be the single hurt color. “Hurt” because it looks like blood or a purple bruise. The carafe is an arrangement in the sense that it was put there in a certain way.

Ok, here is where it gets really trippy: in a system to pointing. WTF?

Remember, this is a poem not a photograph like the one I’ve included above. This carafe the poem is discussing exists only in our mind’s eye. It was conjured up there by a series of words, by language. Language is the system that uses symbols to point at things and this carafe has been arranged within it to demonstrate the nature of language.

All this and not ordinary. When pondering the carafe in this way makes you notice the deeper nature of language it takes on all this meaning and thus is no longer just an ordinary object.

Not unordered in not resembling. When you see the object in this new way it seems different. It no longer “resembles” itself, but yet it still has order and meaning to it. Likewise, the poem might use words and syntax in an unconventional way, but this is not to say that they have no intended meaning behind them.

The difference is spreading. When you see the lesson of the poem, you start to notice it more… like the feeling you get by saying a common word over and over until it sounds foreign and weird. That feeling spreads throughout this collection like the refracted and distorted light through a blind glass, that is a carafe.