Posts filed under ‘Louise Gluck’


Louise Gluck


My great happiness
is the sound your voice makes
calling to me even in despair; my sorrow
that I cannot answer you
in speech you accept as mine.

You have no faith in your own language.
So you invest
authority in signs
you cannot read with any accuracy.

And yet your voice reaches me always.
And I answer constantly,
my anger passing
as winter passes. My tenderness
should be apparent to you
in the breeze of summer evening
and in the words that become
your own response. 

I’ve raved about Gluck on this blog before, but it’s worth saying again – she is, in my opinion, one of the finest, most lyrical poets now writing.

This piece taken from Wild Iris, arguably her most praised collection (though personally I’m partial to Descending Figure) is classic Gluck – a quiet, heartfelt, deeply moving poem about the magic of voice, of sound. These are “words the become / your own response” and in them, as Gluck puts it herself, “my tenderness / should be apparent to you”. It should.



From Slate, a reading by Gluck of her poem Echoes

And another personal favourite – the incredible Cottonmouth Country, from Readings in Contemporary poetry.

I really love this poem – the first six lines so rich, so visual, and then the flat statement of the seventh line with its ring of authentic truth, and then that last line, one of the finest ever written, the sudden turn into the personal, the immediate sense of flooding loss.

July 16, 2006 at 4:07 pm 1 comment


Louise Gluck


Part 5

Part 6


It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees; we are

companions here, not speaking
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist's
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception – At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world.

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.


The brightness of the day becomes
the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.

My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.

Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.

Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.

Lie still and watch:
they give nothing but ask nothing.

From within the earth's
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness

my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

The more I read Gluck, the more I find myself admiring her work. Today's selection comes from her book – Averno [1] – which is a lovely collection of graceful, meditative poems about aging and mortality and grief. A handful of poems here ('Prism', 'Fugue') are a too fragmented, too insistently clever for my taste, but the rest are all consistently stunning.

I picked the last two sections of the long poem October both because they embody everything I like about Gluck's style, and also because they provide an excellent illustration of the way Gluck balances, in Averno, a sense of overwhelming despair with the kind of sad hope that comes only from acceptance. Hope is not a currency that poetry can presume to trade in, Gluck seems to say, but when you find yourself in the dark tunnel, what can the poem find to say to you, except that you are not alone? (that line, btw, is in italics in the original)

P.S. My plan for the rest of the week, just by the way, is to try and focus on 'new' poetry – poems from recent collections / magazines as well as by more contemporary poets.

[1] From the front pages of the book: "Averno. Ancient name Avernus. A small crater lake, ten miles west of Naples, Italy; regarded by the ancient Romans as the entrance to the underworld"

April 18, 2006 at 11:31 pm 14 comments