Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The first line of “Earthly Love” comments on a couple and how “conventions of the time held them together.” This notion, combined with the title of the poem, makes the speaker seem to be looking down on earth from above, commenting on the awkwardness of mortals as they navigate the challenges of relationships. “The heart once given freely” says the speaker, is now “required as a formal gesture.”
The second stanza shifts to the first-person plural perspective, in which the speaker comments, “Fortunately we diverged from these requirements,” reinforcing with her smug tone how her complacency was destroyed when her life shattered. In stating “We are all human,” the speaker shows how people can protect themselves as well as deceive themselves, “even to the point of denying clarity.” Ironically, she says, “within this deception, true happiness occurred.” She states that this happiness, which may or may not have been built on illusion, “has its own reality” and will end no matter what. The speaker seems to be saying that true happiness is such a rare and fragile state that it cannot last and that the illusion of happiness cannot last because illusions must be destroyed.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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.