Morning Sun Ekphrasis

BY Lauren Szeto | December 16, 2022 | Student Essay Awards

Morning Sun by Edward Hopper

It’s a clear day today
Her new high-rise offers a great view of the city
To her, the buildings are splatters of red mosaic beneath the blue sky
She can hear the silence
With cars honking outside, people bustling through the street
Her shadow rests on the sheets
She turns her back, yet it clings by her side
It waits for attention, to be noticed
But hers is scattered outside the window,
Strewn across private laughs and tightly-held hands
That are
The light fills the room
Without the usual

In this assignment, I chose to translate Edward Hopper’s “Morning Sun” into a poem. Hopper, an American realist painter, often painted scenes of American everyday life to evoke urban loneliness and isolation, as demonstrated by “Morning Sun.” I chose the translation form of a poem since it better encapsulates a static moment with less forced linearity than a short story. I drew inspiration from some of the poems from class, specifically “L(a” by E.E Cummings, since I felt that the raw and unsettled experience of this poem effectively created part of the feeling of loneliness that I wanted to emulate in my own poem. To explain my construction, I will discuss how I used the physical structure of the poem, the literary meaning I chose to convey, and the meaning that was lost and gained from the translation to illustrate the urban loneliness within Hopper’s “Morning Sun.” 

In order to effectively communicate the meaning, I took a deep dive into what textual structures I could use in my poem to evoke both the physical and emotional aspects of the image. Throughout the poem, I wanted to demonstrate how the focus of the woman in the poem is towards the window and outside, rather than on what is around her inside. To parallel her attention, I started my poem with the description of what she was looking at outside, which is the blue sky and the red brick buildings. Additionally, the descriptions and stanzas of the outside world are much longer than the descriptions of her and her surroundings. This textually demonstrates the woman’s greater focus and thoughts on what is outside, rather than her own immediate surroundings. Further, I wanted to evoke the feeling of urban loneliness through the structure of the poem as well. I decided to make my description of her and her room in the second stanza surrounded by descriptions of the outside world from the first and third stanzas. This is analogous to how she is surrounded by all of the happenings and community of the outside world, but instead the painting shows she is inside her apartment and alone with her shadow. 

Additionally, I chose the stanza constructions to evoke the interpersonal partition and physical space between her and the world. Not only is she surrounded by the outside world in stanzas 1 and 3, her description in stanza 2 is also separated from them by a single line. The physical space between the stanzas represents her isolation from the rest of the world outside of her apartment that she is not a part of, but physically close to. To emphasize distance, I took inspiration from two concrete poems in class “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound and “L(a” by E.E. Cummings. Though I did not write a concrete poem, the disjointedness, white space, and breath patterns in these pieces were textual features I knew I wanted to mirror in my own poem. In the third stanza, I separate the line “That are twenty-three floors out of her grasp” into seven different lines. While seven is an arbitrary number, I chose to break the main words in the line into their individual lines, starting from twenty-three. The line of individual words textually shows the distance between her and the world, but also ideationally resembles the aforementioned apartment building she lives in that is causing the physical distance in the image. When reading the poem, the line breaks force a disconnect within the flow since each word is detached and receives extra emphasis, especially in comparison to the emotional warmth of laughing and hand-holding described right above it. Similarly, I force a line break in the last line of the poem from warmth to show there is distance to “warmth” or comfort from human connection. Overall, I attempted to use space within the physical construction of the poem in order to emphasize the feeling of urban loneliness that is evoked from the original image. 

Since my translation is a poem, I wanted to choose words and phrases that captured the ideational feeling of urban loneliness from the painting in a succinct and impactful way. I started off the poem with physical descriptors to translate the painting, as I wanted to set the scene early on. As mentioned previously, I started off by describing the outdoors and window, but also wanted to emphasize her expression of longing and being lost in thought. Personally, when I first saw the painting I felt as if she was looking out the window and observing the cityscape like art in the same way that I was observing “Morning Sun.” To show the ideational parallel, I related the scene outside the window to an art piece of mosaic. I wanted to include this in my poem since it also physically describes where she is looking and what she is seeing. 

Next, I juxtapose how lonely she is in the energetic city to evoke the interpersonal feeling of urban loneliness. I described the outside as busy using descriptors of mosaic splatters, noisy cars, and crowds of people that elicit feelings of chaos while she is hearing silence. This is followed by the stanza describing her stillness and how alone she is. I call out her shadow that visually lies on the bed in “Morning Sun” to translate that she is not moving or in action in the picture by saying it is “resting.” The shadow represents a projection of herself in darkness, representing her loneliness that she cannot get rid of, though she tries to ignore it by looking outside. I personify her shadow in order to demonstrate how she is not paying attention to her feelings. 

I additionally chose to call upon her attention towards people outside to describe the age of the girl in the picture and also the longing expression on her face. I wanted to project these interpersonal desires of intimacy for someone who has been in the urban workforce for a few years and can afford the nice apartment she is painted into, but not yet married since there is no ring on her finger. I describe her desires of personal relationships and mention her new apartment in the first stanza in order to translate her approximate age of mid-to-late 20s. 

Lastly, I describe how there is a lack of warmth, despite there being light in the room. This lighted, yet cold, room calls upon the metaphor AFFECTION IS WARMTH to demonstrate how she is lacking affection. Since viewers expect the light from the sun to be warm, they can deduce that she is lacking emotional warmth, rather than physical warmth. Throughout my poem translation, I choose my words carefully to not only describe the physical orientation of the painting, but also the emotional aspect. 

Though I attempted to preserve as much of the painting’s information and emotion as possible into my translation, there exist differences in the meanings that are evoked from the painting and the poem. While the painting has an affordance of spatial decomposition, my poem uses stanza structure and line length to a less explicit degree. In the painting, the woman is the main part of the picture, whereas I inverted this and described the outside as more of a main focus than the woman in order to preserve the feeling of loneliness. However, her description still is in the middle of the poem as she is in the picture. 

Moreover, the painting allows for the affordance of color scheme, while the poem has to make up for this with explicit color descriptions since text is not conventionally colored. In translating, the poem lost the fading sky, the brightness of the painting, the color of the walls, the window frame, and more. Instead, I was only able to describe the shadows and the existence of light without it becoming extremely descriptive and losing the poetic feel. In terms of conventions, the painting has a focal point of the woman, which I attempted to make up with the description of the woman and her attention. However, the colors of her dress and hair, as well as the spatial centering of her body that highlight her as the focal point of the painting, are lost. The poem also loses her body type, position, and posture, with the exception of her facing the window. 

Additionally, paintings do not conventionally have words and are able to express all with imagery. In this case, items such as the window shade, the brick, empty walls, and plain bed sheets could not be included in the poem since they are not as influential in the feeling of urban loneliness. Instead, I focused on describing the expression of loneliness on her face through words in the poem, though this was a meaning that was created through her thoughts and dreams that are not present in the painting. While the picture expresses a static moment, the poem was better at creating meaning for her thought process and desires. All in all, the poem both adds and loses meaning due to the affordances and conventions of verbal description within poetry. 

As a whole, the translation of “Morning Sun” into a poem required me to think about spatial orientation and my word choice for a translation that still lost and added meaning that was not present in the source. In the end, it was a balancing act of being overly descriptive to translate the painting more directly or keeping the poetic conventions. Throughout my translation, I prioritized the poetic conventions in addition to describing the feeling of urban loneliness the painting evoked as the meaning, rather than physical description of the room. 

Lauren Szeto’s “Morning Sun Ekphrasis,” a poetic translation and accompanying critical reflection, shows how creative and critical writing, when joined together, can offer profound insights into the works we study. The essay was written for Prof. Eve Sweetser’s Fall 2022 Art of Writing class, “Writing as Framing.”

Fall 2022 Award Winner

Works Cited
Morning Sun, oil on canvas, 1952, by Edward Hopper, Columbus Museum of Art.