Night Windows by Owen Sheers

In Night Windows, Sheers explores a sexual encounter in which he is distracted by the lit up windows of the city around his building. The poem explores the theme of gender and sexuality, with the female character being active while the male character remains motionless. Night Windows again focuses on the final moments of a relationship, with Sheers reflecting on the breakdown of his relationship. The oxymoronic blend of connection and disconnection is manifested in the poem, explored by the contrasting states of the physical and emotional within Night Windows.

 

Structure

Night Windows is split into 6 quatrains, followed by one three line stanza. The seven stanzas are unrhymed and have irregular syllable line lengths. The poem is written with many enjambed lines, giving the sense of the memory flowing from Owen Sheers as he remembers.

The decrease in amount of lines within the final stanza is reflective of the unsatisfactory ending to the sexual encounter. The seemingly unfinished poem represents this disappointment, with Sheers reflecting on the final moments of his relationship. You can read the full poem here.

 

Night Windows Analysis

Stanza 1

Sheers begins Night Windows by focusing on the connection the couple has, allowing for a later contrast. The ‘we’ binds the couple together, painting them as moving as one as they turn off lights around the apartment. This first stanza portrays the couple setting the scene for their sexual encounter. The dimming of the ‘half bulb bright’ creates a romantic atmosphere as Sheers begins the poem. Yet, the alliterative plosive ‘b’ suggests that perhaps not everything will go as planned, the harsh consonants rallying against the romantic atmosphere.

 

Stanzas 2, 3 and 4

The voyeuristic impression of ‘they could too’ gives an unpleasant sense of being watched within the poem. The couple, or at least their outline ‘through the thin white drapes’, can be seen through the window. This idea of seeing, yet also being seen, is a glimmer of strange connection within a seemingly intimate poem. This can be understood as a sign of strength of connection between the couple, with them not caring about the voyeuristic outsiders looking in. Yet, it could also be a suggestion that both have their mind slightly elsewhere, not totally satisfied by their sexual encounter. This poem explores the failing of the physical, which as we see in one of the previous poems, Valentine, is often the final glimmer of hope for Sheers relationship. Night Windows, alike Valentine, is focusing on the end of a relationship.

The link between woman and nature is a theme which echos throughout the anthology. Here, Sheers compares the female body to iconic aspects of Welsh geography. The ‘curves’ of ‘landscape’ and ‘valleyed’ ‘pelvis’ intertwining the female body with nature. This emphasis on the connection serves to elevate the eroticism of the body, linking to Sheers’ love of the outdoors stemming from his Welsh heritage. However, the sexualisation of the female body comes with a sombre tone. Sheers describes the ’landscape’ as ‘distant’, focusing on the lack of connection between the two. The distance, in a poem of intimacy, is a sign of the relationship beginning to deteriorate. Sheers looks back mournfully on this moment, a silent observer to his own unhappiness.

The ‘bow / drawn’, flowing seamlessly between stanzas 3 and 4, is a representation of the connection to the female body. The smooth eroticism of this moment, captured in the memory of Sheers elevates the beauty of the female body, and further empowers the female character. She is the active force within the poem, ‘you lowered yourself’, taking control over the sexual encounter. The complete sense of ownership over her own body, with the connection spanning from ‘top of your head / to the end of your toes’ is an elevation of the women’s power within the scene. She is totally in control, and eventually leaves Sheers alone in the darkness.

 

Stanza 5

Withdrawing from the intimacy of stanzas 3-5, Sheers retracts and refocuses on the outside world. It seems he has become distracted, instead examining the lights of the city outside the window.

Sheers distracted mind is embodied through the descriptions of failed connection. The focus on ‘Morse code’ is something Sheers can’t quite understand, looking in on these other windows yet not being able to connect the mysteries they hold. Each one of these windows contains a life story, and Sheers can only watch as they continue, him frozen in a sexual encounter as he gazes upon the nocturnal city. The final ‘every one of them went dark’ symbolises this failure to connect. Not only can Sheers not understand the people represented by each light, but he cannot connect with his lover, the failed sexual interaction being a representation of their deteriorating relationship within Night Windows.

The sense of ‘performance’ calls to the role people play within society. Sheers is concerned about the different roles genders are given, a large portion of his poetry in Skirrid hill exploring the relation between the sexes. Yet, this notion of ‘performed’ suggests a certain falseness about reality, with people only acting a certain way, not truly being who they are.

 

Stanza 6

The eery silence of the ‘siren’, without sound and yet with the iconographic ‘blue strobe’ add a further layer of disconnection within Night Windows. He seems trapped in a purgatory space, separated from the outside world by the Night Windows, with even sound being unable to reach him.

The oxymoronic ‘far away yet near’ is emblematic of the physical connection, yet emotional disconnection between Sheers and his lover. Although making love, there is a certain failure to connect, incredibly close physically yet with their severed emotional connection giving the idea of ‘distance’.

 

Stanza 7

This stanza is emblematic of both the unfulfilling sexual encounter and the heightened power of the female character. The structural difference between stanza 7 and the other 6 stanzas, measuring one line less, is representative of the lack of fulfilment within Night Windows, seemingly not quite complete.

This unfinished structure holds disappointment, with the female rising ‘with a sigh’, the first sound within the poem being one of dissatisfaction.

Again, the female character is the one with the power, presented as activity moving within Night Windows. She ‘rose from me’, leaving Sheers’ body and ‘walk[ing]’ away from him into the ‘hallway.’ The active movement away from Sheers is emblematic of the breakdown of their relationship, with the woman unsatisfied both physically and emotionally, leaving Sheers in darkness as she walks away.

The ‘dress of shadow’ can be understood as a representation of their relationship. The poem is one that inherently addresses the subject of memory. This physical manifestation of their relationship within a ‘dress’ both sexualises, yet also diminishes the relationship, due to its ‘shadow’ hue.

Sheers again focuses on the final moments of relationships, the tragic silence and melancholy as the woman activity leaves him is palpable. The relationship has come to a finish, Sheers is left lying in the darkness as his lover walks away and the outside world fades to ‘dark’.

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