The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Lamentations” consists of four brief lyric poem sequences in free verse. Each sequence has its own title: “The Logos,” “Nocturne,” “The Covenant,” and “The Clearing.” Individual sequences contain from three to four stanzas each. These vary from two to seven lines in length, and the lines themselves mimic the stanzas through the economy of words used.

The title of this poem, “Lamentations,” suggests mourning for something irrevocably lost. It especially recalls the Old Testament’s Hebrew prophets lamenting the folly of the Children of Israel and their resultant separation from Jehovah. There are also correspondences between Louise Glück’s sequence titles and the New Testament gospel of Saint John. For example, the title of the first sequence, “The Logos,” recalls John’s story of Jesus Christ, as the gospel of John opens with the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word.” One definition of “word” in this context is the Greek word logos. “The Logos” can be described as cosmic reason or, according to ancient Greek philosophy, as the source of world order and intelligibility. The title of “The Logos” therefore suggests a story of cosmic origins and mythical figures that echoes both Greek and Christian mythology. Indeed, the poem’s first stanza describes archetypal figures of a woman—described as “mournful”—and a man. These figures in turn recall the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden and the...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Lamentations” abounds with rich mythic imagery that serves as the poem’s touchstone. The four sequences recall the days of Creation that began with the word, or logos, and ended with night. “The Covenant” echoes the Genesis Creation story, in which God makes a covenant between himself and “the man” and “the woman.” At the conclusion of six days of Creation, God rests from his work and calls it “good.” “Lamentations” ends with a corresponding note with the lines, “How beautiful it must have been,/ the earth, that first time” as God saw it when He “leapt into heaven.”

“Lamentations” sets archetypal figures against a backdrop of nature. The man, woman, and child are seen within a world of stripped-down imagery. Readers see the primitive beginnings of humankind, set within a natural world of flowers, beasts, day, night, and they are made aware of the minimal human needs of shelter, warmth, security, and food. The simple, direct imagery of “Nocturne” illustrates the tone of the poem with images of a “forest,” “hills,” “dusk,” “reeds,” and “leaves.” Beasts, “wolves,” and “the man, the woman” populated this environment. “Nocturne” concludes with a line reminding one of the moon glancing off night trees with a “moan of silver.” Such mythic images are explicit metaphors for fundamental human impulses and emotions.

Glück’s sparse language mirrors her use of mythic...

(The entire section is 437 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.