About the author:
I am a first-year Languages student focusing my studies on German and Hebrew, as well as a member of Dawson’s Model United Nations delegation, a local Marxist organization, and an all-girl rock band. Among my future career considerations is literary translation, a field of interest to me as someone who finds fiction an incredibly powerful tool. Words have an unmatched potential to move the people who write them and the people who read them. Writing this essay inspired an appreciation for poetry for me, something I am incredibly grateful for as an aspiring activist and songwriter.
Sacraments and Trinity: an Analysis of Catherine Tufariello’s “In Glass”
By Jasmine Brett
For Introduction to College English with Prof. Susan Elmslie
“In Glass”, a sonnet by Catherine Tufariello, paints a picture of a couple burdened by their infertility finding hope and beauty through in vitro fertilization. Specifically, one hopeful parent is speaking to the other, as evidenced by the use of first–and second–person pronouns. The subject of the poem has personal significance for Tufariello, as a woman who has struggled with infertility before finally giving birth to her daughter (“Catherine Tufariello Interviewed”). The poet uses imagery, diction, and the structure of the poem itself to her advantage in order to orient the reader towards an understanding of the couple’s perspective on their journey towards parenthood.
As early as the first stanza, Tufariello’s word choice already hints at the imagery that is to be used throughout the poem. She metaphorically relates the in vitro cultures to artificially-created pearls, something that is created in an unnatural process, expensive, and yet still widely considered incredibly beautiful. Their future child holds the same properties. In the next stanza, the line, “Their sacraments, invisible to sight” (l. 8), the word ‘sacrament’ denotes a sacred rite in the Christian faith (“Sacrament”, def. 1). One such rite is baptism, which symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and declares one as a follower of Christ, through the immersion of oneself in water (What is Baptism?). A comparison can be drawn between this religious rite and the cells “Floating in a clear solution” (l. 1), creating a whole new life. The second stanza opens with “Here’s the sublime of lab and microscope” (l. 7), hinting again at an awesome, almost holy, significance that this procedure has for the couple. This image fits well with the definition of the sublime, of carrying extreme beauty. Tufariello ties in elements of religion and philosophy to metaphorically communicate the absolute beauty that this procedure has in the eyes of the couple.
Individual word choices, while seemingly small, also play a large role in the way Tufariello illustrates her work. In the line “Small stars, none more substantial than a wraith” (l. 13), the poet manages to convey a great deal of information, simply by using the word “wraith.” A wraith can simply be a shadowy figure, but historically, the word has been used to denote an exact likeness of a person seen just before death (“Wraith”). When trying to conceive via in vitro fertilization, the chance of all (or even any) viable embryos surviving is slim, thus the comparison to something insubstantial and shadowy. However, it can be assumed that this is the only way for the couple to have a child that is biologically related to them, one that will have their likeness. They can do nothing but hope that their “wraith” will take form. In the same stanza, the speaker makes a reference to wishing on shooting stars: “Small stars…/ On which we wish with our agnostic faith.” (ll. 13-14). While many children may believe that making a wish while watching a shooting star will help it come true, most adults would agree that that is nothing but a superstition. Still, some hold on to their inner child and go along with this belief. By choosing to make this reference, Tufariello demonstrates the hesitant yet hopeful attitude of the parents. With simple word choices like these, she adds greater depth to her writing and enhances the reader’s experience and understanding of the complex emotional state which often comes with infertility.
The structure of this sonnet, namely the use of rhyme and the constitution of the poem, also relates to its content, mirroring the dynamics between the characters. The rhyme schemes for the first two stanzas are abacbc, then defdef, three sets of rhymes interwoven with each other, possibly representing the fertilization unifying the two parent’s cells. Furthermore, the poem is made up of three stanzas: two sestets and a couplet. The significance of the number three, both in the rhyming scheme and the number of stanzas represents the trinity of the two hopeful parents and their potential eventual child. The final stanza, the couplet which discusses the hopefulness of the couple regarding such tiny cells, indicates that while they see some beauty in the procedure, their infertility leaves them the chance of being alone — hence the two lines standing separately, on their own.
Tufariello makes use of these literary techniques in order to tell the story of this couple and the effect the process of in vitro fertilization has on them. The structure of the poem highlights the relationships between the two parents and their potential child while the imagery, created through deliberate word choices, ties in different emotional aspects to the poem. There is both a feeling of almost sacred beauty and a possibility for disappointment with regards to the procedure. The epigraph, “a photo for your album,” calls attention to the fact that the situation described is similar to many people’s first experiences of parenthood. Most parents’ first pictures of their children come from fetal ultrasounds, but this couple already has memories associated with their child even before pregnancy. While the poem articulates the details of this specific couple’s unique experience, it can also be used to create a much broader statement: that in vitro fertilization, much like any other road to parenthood, leaves prospective parents with complex and intense emotions.
“Catherine Tufariello Interviewed by Kathleen Mullen” Valparaiso Poetry Review, Oct. 4 2005,
“Sacrament”, def. N. 1, Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, 2019.
https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/sacrament. Accessed 11
Tufariello, Catherine. “In Glass by Catherine Tufariello.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,
Feb. 2002, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=41413.
Accessed 7 November 2019.
“What is Baptism?” Hillsong, https://hillsong.com/faith/baptism/. Accessed 7 November 2019.
“Wraith”, Merriam-Webster, 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wraith.
Accessed 11 November 2019.