[In honor of the publication of Louise Glück’s Poems 1962–2012]
Fifty years of poems from a poet not yet turned seventy, brimming with carefully articulated emotion beginning in taut observations —
Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras.
And there were other signs
That Death wooed us, by water, wooed us
By land: among the pines
An uncurled cottonmouth that rolled on moss
Reared in the polluted air.
Birth, not death, is the hard loss.
I know. I also left a skin there. (Cottonmouth Country, 1968)
— and acerbic judgment on the varieties of human experience —
You see, they have no judgment.
So it is natural that they should drown,
first the ice taking them in
and then, all winter, their wool scarves
floating behind them as they sink
until at last they are quiet ... (The Drowned Children, 1980)
— before arriving, much later, at a near-religious meditativeness:
Once I believed in you; I planted a fig tree.
Here, in Vermont, country
of no summer. It was a test: if the tree lived,
it would mean you existed.
By this logic, you do not exist. Or you exist
exclusively in warmer climates ... (Vespers, 1992)
The physical body predominates in Louise Glück’s poetry, always the point of reference —
... your back is my favorite part of you,
the part furthest away from your mouth ... (Purple Bathing Suit, 1996)
— and yet contrasted with the mind and the surrounding world —
... Persephone is having sex in hell.
Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know
what winter is, only that
she is what causes it. (Persephone the Wanderer, 2006)
— and because everything is separated, Glück’s words carefully dissect their subjects —
... One of three results must follow:
the fruit isn't what you imagined,
or it is but fails to satiate.
Or it is damaged in falling
and as a shattered thing torments you forever.
But I refused to be
bested by fruit ... (The Traveler, 2001)
— before arriving at shocking, irrefutable conclusions:
Where does the voice come from
that says suppose the war
is evil, that says
suppose the body did this to us,
made us afraid of love — (Crater Lake, 2006)
No matter who her speakers are, Louise Glück’s voice remains inimitably hers, and with that voice she guides us into her cold logic, her stunning and unforgettable images:
The world for a little longer
is something to see, then only something to hear
Or to smell sometimes, aroma of lemon trees, of orange trees.
Then sleep takes this away also.
But it’s easy to give things up like this, experimentally,
for a matter of hours.
I open my fingers —
I let everything go.
Visual world, language,
rustling of leaves in the night,
smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.
I let it go, then I light the candle. (Twilight, 2009)
Image credits: poetryfoundation.org / poetryfoundation.org / yaledailynews.com