‘An Easy Passage’ by Julia Copus is a thirty-eight line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines do not have a specific pattern of rhyme, nor is there a metrical pattern. This means that the poem is written in free verse. The lines follow one another quite quickly in what is almost a stream of consciousness style. This makes it seem as if they are building up towards something while navigating through all the emotional and physical barriers the young female characters face.
While there is not one specific pattern of rhyme there are moments in which rhyme occurs at the end of, within the lines themselves. For instance, in lines seventeen and nineteen the words “know” and “grow” rhyme. Another moment occurs in the first section when the word “mind” ends the fifth and eighth lines. This helps to create a feeling of unity, and increase the lyrical nature of some passages. It feels as though these “coincidental” rhymes occurred naturally, but that is probably not the case. They were likely very intentionally placed.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the past actions of a young girl in a bathing suit on the porch roof of a house. She was climbing up the house and the speaker is now able to feel and relay what the girl felt then. There was the warmth of the sun and the strain as she tried to reach up towards a window.
Down below was the girl’s friend, who she may or may not have been in love with. This second young girl was also barely dressed and was watching her friend make this climb. It is clear after a question posed by the speaker part of the way through the poem, that she is really interested in the way these two girls were growing. The climb of the house symbolized the hard passage from childhood to adulthood.
In the next sections, the speaker describes a factory nearby. There, everything is dull and gray. A secretary watched the girls from the window and observed the last moments as the girl on the roof disappeared into the shadow of the house.
You can read the full poem here.
The tone of this piece is an important part of the narrative. It is withdrawn, but at the same time conversational. The stream of consciousness style changes the reader’s perception of the tone as the phrases merge together and become more lyrical and abstract. Many of these moments are quite vivid and clearly meaningful to the speaker and, inherently, to the girls who were experiencing them. At the same time, the speaker is retelling events of the past. This puts a certain amount of distance between the speaker and the main character and emphasizes the fact that time goes on. Even events that seem current are over.
One of the most prominent techniques used by Copus in ‘An Easy Passage’ is contrast. The most obvious instance of this occurring is in the title. ‘An Easy Passage’ speaks to something simple, completed without difficulty. This is the exact opposite of what is depicted in the poem. One of the main characters, who spends the piece perched on the roof encounters nothing but difficulty as she struggles.
Copus also makes use of allegory in ‘An Easy Passage.’ It appears that the narrative is an emotional, stream of consciousness , yet simple, the depiction of a girl on a hot day in a bikini climbing on the house. When one digs a little deeper though it becomes clear that the speaker was interested in discussing the difficulties one faces while progressing from teenage years to adulthood.
The poet also uses enjambment in ‘An Easy Passage.’ This is a technique employed when one wants to force a reader’s eye from one line to the next. A phrase is interrupted with a line break in an uncomfortable location. Often times this creates little cliff hangers, giving greater impact to some of the most important lines.
One early example of this happening is in lines three and four: “she knows that the one thing she must not do is to think /of the narrow windowsill…” A reader must get down to the fourth line in order to know what she was trying not to think about. This, in tandem with the tenuous position of the girl, creates a feeling of urgency about the situation.
Analysis of An Easy Passage
Once she is halfway up there, crouched in her bikini
on the porch roof of her family’s house, trembling,
gravel somewhere beneath her, keep her mind
on her and on the fact of the open window,
In the first lines of ‘An Easy Passage’ enter into the narrative in media res, or at the mid-point of an action. One of the main characters of this piece, who is immediately revealed to be a girl, was on the porch roof of her house. She was only wearing her bikini. These two elements together speak to a vulnerability. It represents what was then her current mental state and allows the reader to see into her mind.
It is clear that she was not immune to the risk inherent in her actions. The speaker who is telling the story of this girl, informs the listener that the girl was “trembling.” She was afraid and doing her best to remain focused on what she was trying to do. The speaker knows that the girl was trying not to,
of the narrow windowsill, the sharp
drop of the stairwell;
The young girl was trying her best to achieve whatever vague goal she had in mind while on the roof. Part of the interest of this initial scenario is the fact that it is hard to tell what exactly she was trying to do. Is she climbing back in the house? Or trying to get out? Whichever it may be, it’s a struggle. This is seen through her attempts to block out any fears associated with being on the roof and focus on the task, and the friend “whom she is half in love” who is still on the ground.
The fact that this detail, the girl’s possible romantic interest in her female friend, is mentioned so quickly and without any fanfare, speaks to the overall complexity of the situation. This attachment is just one part of life the girl has to deal with.
the flimsy, hole-punched, aluminium lever
towards which in a moment she will reach
of the way the world admits us less and less
the more we grow? For now both girls seem
In the next lines, the speaker continues to describe the roof and the girl’s attempts to reach the “aluminum lever.” This statement is followed by a few more sensory moments in which the reader is meant to empathize with this girl’s struggle. There is mention of the “warm flank of the house” and it is impossible to forget the fact that the girls were in bikinis. The heat was an integral part of the scene, continually blazing down on them as another point of pressure. There is a moment in the thirteenth line in which the speaker,
steadies herself, still crouching, the grains of the asphalt
hot beneath her toes and fingertips,
a square of petrified beach.
This is very vivid writing and brings up any number of physical associations. It is uncomfortable, but at the same time it references the beach, even if the beach is “petrified.” A close reader should not ignore the references to sand and the fact that this poem focuses heavily on the passage of time. The same heat that was radiating down from the sky was also coming up into her feet and hands as an additional separate point of tension.
The girl was crouched down on the roof, readying herself to grab onto that “aluminum lever.” The line referring to the girl’s “tiny breasts” is immediately followed by a question that gets to the root of the poem’s theme. The speaker asks what the girl could possibly know about the “way the world admits us less and less / the more we grow?” She is speaking on the ways that the world becomes harder to understand and more difficult to contend with as one ages.
lit, as if from within, their hair and the gold stud
earrings in the first one’s ears; for now the long, grey
from the stirring omens of the astrology column
at a girl – thirteen if she’s a day – standing
In the next lines, it seems that the two girls have yet to reach a stage where they are confronted by the truth of the world. They were still illuminated with some of that childish light that is soon to dissipate. It could be seen in their “hair and the gold stud / earrings in the first one’s ears”
After a semi-colon, the speaker dives into the adult world. It is much drabber and quite gray. She moves from the workers in the factory to the “flush-faced secretary” A reader should take note of the use of alliteration in lines six and seven.
electroplating factory over the road,
far too, most far, from the flush-faced secretary
The consonant sound “f” is repeated five times in this short span. There is also another interesting moment of repetition with the word “far” while the speaker is describing the day to day life of the factory workers and the secretary. This is not an appealing future, but it is a part of the one all young people are headed towards.
in next to nothing in the driveway opposite,
a silver anklet and the five neat shimmering
In the next lines, the secretary becomes part of the larger narrative. She looked up from where she was working and dreaming of a trip and saw the girl standing in “the driveway opposite. The secretary was able to see a large amount of detail from her position. She could tell that the girl was hardly wearing anything. She had one hand on her stomach and another shielding her eyes from the sun.
The fact that the girl on the driveway struggled to see the girl on the roof is quite symbolic, as is the light itself. The difficulty represents the general struggle these young women are about to go through. With her sight blocked, it was hard for her to see what was going on. It was also hard for her to make out everything her friend was doing on the roof. She remained below while the other girl climbed.
oyster-painted toenails of an outstretched foot
dropping gracefully into the shade of the house.
The speaker also says that the secretary was able to see the “silver anklet” on the ankle of the girl on the roof. It also reflected light. Here again is another moment in which the young girls are connected to a glowing or general luminescence. It is also interesting to consider the historical symbolism connected with silver. It is associated with things considered to be precious and is sometimes connected with femininity.
Another part of the scene the secretary was able to see was the girl on the ground watching the,
[…] five neat shimmering
oyster-painted toenails of an outstretched foot
These were the toes of her friend climbing on the house. They “shimmer[ed],” continuing the allusions to light, youth, beauty, and hope. She saw them catch the sunlight and then, fitting in perfectly with the allegory that has been running through the text, disappear. They were at once like a “flash of armaments,” or a final defense against the coming decades of adulthood. But soon that was gone too and the girl “drop[ed] gracefully into the shade of the house.”
‘An Easy Passage’ does not end as depressingly as it might. The fact that she moved gracefully and was still sporting the painted nails indicates that there might be some part of adulthood that isn’t as dreary as the factory described in the middle of the poem. That being said, it is impossible to ignore that dark image and the unstoppable progression of time. Even if the girls do not end up in a similar place, but are happier, leading fuller lives, something will still be lost. The light of youth and freedom will dim until it is completely out.