Themes and Meanings

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

The title of “Lamentations” encapsulates a central concern that is developed throughout the poem. The instant of creation in the poem occurs at the beginning, the genesis, of separation and loss. “Birth, not death, is the hard loss,” Glück wrote in “Cottonmouth Country” from her first book, Firstborn (1969). Helen...

(The entire section contains 416 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Lamentations study guide. You'll get access to all of the Lamentations content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Themes
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The title of “Lamentations” encapsulates a central concern that is developed throughout the poem. The instant of creation in the poem occurs at the beginning, the genesis, of separation and loss. “Birth, not death, is the hard loss,” Glück wrote in “Cottonmouth Country” from her first book, Firstborn (1969). Helen Vendler writes in Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets (1980) that Glück’s “parable” passes from creation “through splitting and panic to birth and authority[to] language and estrangement.” The lament is a moan of mourning, “a slow moan,” for a time when man, woman, and child were not dissolved into distinct, separate beings whose only source of communication hinges on “words,” the language which the poem compares to “wounds” on “white flesh.”

The woman faces a double alienation: She is divided from the man, and the angels see that the division also includes “the woman, and the woman’s body.” It is from this “woman’s body” that “a child grew between” her and the man. There is isolation from the nuclear family, but also from her own flesh. The child’s beseeching as it “reached its hands” toward the man and woman makes them realize that they must take responsibility for their creation, as they are now the highest authority. All is built upon this premise. From the realization of authority, humanity is fully realized, and the figures try to understand and imagine the god who created them.

The attempt to conceive God’s view of the earth shines a ray of hope into the landscape of the poem. It portrays the capacities of humankind’s imagination and leaves a sense of wonder, “How beautiful,” in the last stanza. A flicker of faith is expressed throughout the poem that the power of creative imagination can heal the wound of the alienated self and bring it into contact with the external world and other human beings. The poem projects an intense need to create meaningful language, to make the world familiar as a respite against the isolation so keenly described. Language, while being depicted as the final example of human estrangement, has the potential to redeem the divided relationships within the poem. Language attempts to express the wild beauty of human imagination so that there is, along with lamentation, elation. The poem tries, through the use of archetypal imagery, to bring the reader to a greater understanding of the world through Glück’s vision, communicated by the shared medium of language.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Lamentations Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Critical Essays