Poetry of Louise Gluck

The Poetry of Louise Gluck

One of my favorite poets in the world is Louise Gluck.  I like how she can’t quite be tagged.  The Poetry Foundation says her work can’t really be found “confessional” or “intellectual”; she’s a VOICE, strong and honest and beautiful.  Here are some of my favorites.

  First Memory

Long ago, I was wounded.  I lived

to revenge myself

against my father, not

for what he was–

for what I was: from the beginning of time,

in childhood, I thought

that pain meant

I was not loved.

It meant I loved.

The Red Poppy

The great thing

is not having

a mind.  Feelings:

oh, I have those; they

govern me.  I have

a lord in heaven

called the sun, and open

for him, showing him

the fire of my own heart, fire

like his presence.

What could such glory be

if not a heart?  Oh my brothers and sisters,

were you like me once, long ago,

before you were human?  Did you

permit yourselves

to open once, who would never

open again?  Because in truth

I am speaking now

the way you do, I speak

because I am shattered.

The Untrustworthy Speaker

Don’t listen to me; my heart’s been broken.

I don’t see anying objectively.

I know myself; I’ve learned to hear like a psychiatrist.

When I speak passionately,

that’s when I’m least to be trusted.

It’s very sad, really: all my life I’ve been praised

for my intelligence, my powers of language, of insight–

in the end they’re wasted–

I never see myself.

Standing on the front steps.  Holding my sisters hand.

That’s why I can’t account

for the bruises on her arm where the sleeve ends…

In my own mind, I’m invisible: that’s why I’m dangerous.

People like me, who seem selfless.

We’re the cripples, the liars:

We’re the ones who should be factored out

in the interest of the truth.

When I’m quiet, that’s when the truth emerges.

A clear sky, the clouds like white fibers.

Undernearth, a little gray house.  The azaleas

red and bright pink.

If you want the truth, you have to close yourself

to the older sister, block her out:

when a living thing is hurt like that

in its deepest workings,

all function is altered.

That’s why I’m not to be trusted.

Because a wound to the heart

is also a wound to the mind.

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering

there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.

Then nothing.  The weak sun

flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive

as consciousness

buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being

a soul and unable

to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth

bending a little.  And what I took to be

birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember

passage from the other world

I tell you I could speak again: whatever

returns from oblivion returns

to find a voice:

from the center of my life came

a great fountain, deep blue

shadows on azure seawater.

The Silver Lily

The nights have grown cool again, like the nights

of early spring, and quiet again.  Will

speech disturb you?  We’re

alone now, we have no reason for silence.

Can you see, over the garden–the full moon rises.

I won’t see the next full moon.

In spring, when the moon rose, it meant

time was endless.  Snowdrops

opened and closed, the clustered

seeds of the maples fell in pale drifts.

White over white, the moon rose over the birch tree.

And in the crook, where the tree divides,

leaves of the first daffodils, in moonlight

soft greenish-silver.

We have come too far together toward the end now

to fear the end.  These nights, I am no longer

even certain

I know what the end means.  And you, who’ve been

with a man–

After the first cries,

doesn’t joy, like fear, make no sound?


Do you know what I was, how I lived?  You know

what despair is; then

winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,

earth suppressing me, I didn’t expect

to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again

crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.


Late December; my father and I

are going to New York, to the circus.

He holds me

on his shoulders in the bitter wind:

scraps of white paper

blow over the railroad ties.

My father liked

to stand like this, to hold me

so he couldn’t see me.

I remember

staring straight ahead

into the world my father saw.

I was learning

to absorb its emptiness,

the heavy snow

not falling, whirling around us.

Mother and Child

We’re all dreamers; we don’t know who we are.

Some machine made us; machine of the world, the constricting family.

Then back to the world, polished by soft whips.

We dream; we don’t remember.

Machine of the family: dark fur, forests of the mother’s body.

Machine of the mother: white city inside her.

And before that: earth and water.

Moss between rocks, pieces of leaves and grass.

And before, cells in a great darkness.

And before that, the veiled world.

This is why you were born: to silence me.

Cells of my mother and father, it is your turn

to be pivotal, to be the masterpiece.

I improvised; I never remembered.

Now it’s your turn to be driven;

you’re the one who demands to know:

Why do I suffer?  Why am I ignorant?

Cells in a great darkness.  Some machine made us;

it is your turn to address it, to go back asking

what am I for?  What am I for?

The Empty Glass

I asked for much; I received much.

I asked for much; I received little, I received

next to nothing.

And between?  A few umbrellas opened indoors.

A pair of shoes by mistake on the kitchen table.

O wrong, wrong–it was my nature.  I was

hard-hearted, remote.  I was

selfish, rigid to the point of tyranny.

B ut I was always that person, even in early childhood.

Small, dark-haired, dreaded by the other children.

I never changed.  Inside the glass, the abstract

tide of fortune turned

from hight to low overnight.

Was it the sea?  Responding, maybe,

to celestial force?  To be safe,

I prayed.  I tried to be a better person.

Soon it seemed to me that what began as terror

and matured into moral narcissism

might have become in fact

actual human growth.  Maybe

this is what my friends meant, taking my hand,

telling me they understood

the abuse, the incredible shit I accepted,

implying (so I once thought) I was a little sick

to give so much for so little.

Whereas they meant I was good I(clasping my hand intensely)–

a good friend and person, not a creature of pathos.

I was not pathetic!  I was writ large,

like a great queen or saint.

Well, it all makes for interesting conjecture.

And it occurs to me that what is crucial is to believe

in effort, to believe some good will come of simply trying,

a good completely untainted by the corrupt initiating impulse

to persuade or seduce–

What are we without this?

Whirling in the dark universe,

alone, afraid, unable to influence fate–

What do we have really?

Sad tricks with ladders and shoes,

tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring

attempts to build character.

What do we have to appease the great forces?

And I think in the end this was the question

that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach,

the Greek ships at the ready, the sea

invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future

lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking

it could be controlled.  He should have said

I have nothing, I am at your mercy.

Gretel in Darkness

This is the world we wanted.

All who would have seen us dead

are dead.  I hear the witch’s cry

break in the moonlight through a sheet

of sugar.  God rewards.

Her tongue shrivels into gas…

Now, far from women’s arms

and memory of women, in our father’s hut

we sleep, are never hungry.

Why do I not forget?

My father bars the door, bars harm

from his house, and it is years.

No one remembers.  Even you, my brother,

summer afternoons you look at me as though

you meant to leave,

as though it never happened.

But I killed for you.  I see armed firs,

the spired of that gleaming kiln–

Nights I turn to you to hold me

but you are not there.

Am I alone?  Spies

hiss in the stillness, Hansel,

we are there still and it is real, real,

that black forest and the fire in earnest.


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