(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In “The Drowned Children,” from The Descending Figure, an onlooker comments on children who have fallen through the ice of a pond and drowned. With the cool detachment of the ice cracking, this speaker addresses the reader directly, describing how the children “have no judgment. So it is natural that they should drown.” The “ice taking them in” and “their wool scarves floating behind them as they sink” convey the experiences of the children being swallowed by the water. Nevertheless, the pond lifts the children “in its manifold arms,” keeping them buoyant at least temporarily.

The speaker determines that “death must come to them differently, so close to the beginning,” as though not much time had elapsed since the children had been “blind and weightless,” like babies. The images of “the lamp, the good white cloth that covered the table, their bodies” symbolize the light, warmth, and purity associated with children.

By describing how the children “hear the names they used like lures slipping over the pond,” Glück refers to the children hearing their names called by their parents or calling one another’s names on a day that demands nothing more than the simple pleasure of fishing. The voice at the end of the poem which asks what the children are waiting for and beckons them to “come home, come home” is silenced in an image of the children “lost in the waters, blue and permanent.

The Drowned Children Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Diehl, Joanne Feit, ed. On Louise Glück: Change What You See. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

Dodd, Elizabeth. “Louise Glück: The Ardent Understatement of Postconfessional Classicism.” In The Veiled Mirror and the Woman Poet: H. D., Louise Bogan, Elizabeth Bishop, and Louise Glück. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992.

Harrison, DeSales. The End of the Mind: The Edge of the Intelligible in Hardy, Stevens, Larkin, Plath, and Glück. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Upton, Lee. Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Glück, and Carson. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2005.

Upton, Lee. “Fleshless Voices: Louise Glück’s Rituals of Abjection and Oblivion.” In The Muse of Abandonment: Origin, Identity, Mastery in Five American Poets. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.