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Louise Glück

1943–

Louise Glück was born in New York City on April 22, 1943, and grew up on Long Island. She is the author of numerous books of poetry, including Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014), which won the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry; Averno (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006), a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry; and Vita Nova (Ecco Press, 1999), winner of Boston Book Review’s Bingham Poetry Prize and The New Yorker’s Book Award in Poetry. In 2004, Sarabande Books released her six-part poem “October” as a chapbook.

Her other award-winning books include The Wild Iris (Ecco Press, 1992), which received the Pulitzer Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award; Ararat (Ecco Press, 1990), for which she received the Library of Congress’s Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry; and The Triumph of Achilles (Ecco Press, 1985), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Boston Globe Literary Press Award, and the Poetry Society of America’s Melville Kane Award.

In a review in The New Republic, the critic Helen Vendler wrote: “Louise Glück is a poet of strong and haunting presence. Her poems, published in a series of memorable books over the last twenty years, have achieved the unusual distinction of being neither ‘confessional’ nor ‘intellectual’ in the usual senses of those words.”

Glück has also published a collection of essays, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco Press, 1994), which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction. Her honors include the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, a Sara Teasdale Memorial Prize, the MIT Anniversary Medal and fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, Glück was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999. In the fall of 2003, she was appointed as the Library of Congress’s twelfth poet laureate consultant in poetry. She served as judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets from 2003 to 2010.

In 2008, Glück was selected to receive the Wallace Stevens Award for mastery in the art of poetry. Her collection, Poems 1962-2012, was awarded the 2013 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. In 2015, she was awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Currently, Glück is a writer-in-residence at Yale University.


Selected Bibiography

Poetry

Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)
Poems: 1962-2012 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013)
A Village Life (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009)
Averno (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006)
The Seven Ages (Ecco Press, 2001)
Vita Nova (Ecco Press, 1999)
Meadowlands (Ecco Press, 1996)
The First Four Books of Poems (Ecco Press, 1995)
The Wild Iris (Ecco Press, 1992)
Ararat (Ecco Press, 1990)
The Triumph of Achilles (Ecco Press, 1985)
Descending Figure (Ecco Press, 1980)
The Garden (Antaeus, 1976)
The House on Marshland (Ecco Press, 1975)
Firstborn (New American Library, 1968)

Prose

Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (The Ecco Press, 1994)
American Originality: Essays on Poetry (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2017)

Louise Glück
Photo credit: Gasper Tringale

By This Poet

37

Vespers

In your extended absence, you permit me 
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report 
failure in my assignment, principally 
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow 
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold 
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come 
so often here, while other regions get 
twelve weeks of summer. All this 
belongs to you: on the other hand, 
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots 
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart 
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly 
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of 
that term. You who do not discriminate 
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence, 
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know 
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible 
for these vines.

A Myth of Devotion

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone's Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.

Persephone the Wanderer

In the first version, Persephone
is taken from her mother
and the goddess of the earth
punishes the earth—this is
consistent with what we know of human behavior,

that human beings take profound satisfaction
in doing harm, particularly
unconscious harm:

we may call this
negative creation.

Persephone's initial
sojourn in hell continues to be
pawed over by scholars who dispute
the sensations of the virgin:

did she cooperate in her rape,
or was she drugged, violated against her will,
as happens so often now to modern girls.

As is well known, the return of the beloved
does not correct
the loss of the beloved: Persephone

returns home
stained with red juice like
a character in Hawthorne—

I am not certain I will
keep this word: is earth
"home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably,
in the bed of the god? Is she
at home nowhere? Is she
a born wanderer, in other words
an existential
replica of her own mother, less
hamstrung by ideas of causality?

You are allowed to like
no one, you know. The characters
are not people.
They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.

Three parts: just as the soul is divided,
ego, superego, id. Likewise

the three levels of the known world,
a kind of diagram that separates
heaven from earth from hell.

You must ask yourself:
where is it snowing?

White of forgetfulness,
of desecration—

It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says

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.

She is lying in the bed of Hades.
What is in her mind?
Is she afraid? Has something
blotted out the idea
of mind?

She does know the earth
is run by mothers, this much
is certain. She also knows
she is not what is called
a girl any longer. Regarding
incarceration, she believes

she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter.

The terrible reunions in store for her
will take up the rest of her life.
When the passion for expiation
is chronic, fierce, you do not choose
the way you live. You do not live;
you are not allowed to die.

You drift between earth and death
which seem, finally,
strangely alike. Scholars tell us

that there is no point in knowing what you want
when the forces contending over you
could kill you.

White of forgetfulness,
white of safety—

They say
there is a rift in the human soul
which was not constructed to belong
entirely to life. Earth

asks us to deny this rift, a threat
disguised as suggestion—
as we have seen
in the tale of Persephone
which should be read

as an argument between the mother and the lover—
the daughter is just meat.

When death confronts her, she has never seen
the meadow without the daisies.
Suddenly she is no longer
singing her maidenly songs
about her mother's
beauty and fecundity. Where
the rift is, the break is.

Song of the earth,
song of the mythic vision of eternal life—

My soul
shattered with the strain
of trying to belong to earth—

What will you do,
when it is your turn in the field with the god?

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