Student Question

How would you analyze "The White Lilies" by Louise Glück?

Expert Answers

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"The White Lilies" begins with an act of creation. A man and a woman make a garden so beautiful that it seems like an earthly reflection of the stars above. This makes them godlike in their creation and recalls the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.

In lines 5 and 6, however, "the evening turns/cold with their terror." Though nothing has changed on a physical level, the man and the woman are struck by a sudden fear that they could lose everything; the garden could be destroyed. The first image of destruction is of narrow columns, rising to support nothing. The second is of "a churning sea of poppies" like those that grew on the battlefields of Flanders after the First World War.

The second and final stanza is addressed directly from a speaker to a listener, whom the speaker addresses as "beloved." It is not clear whether these two are the same as the man and the woman in the first stanza or, if so, which is which. The speaker could be a bulb or seed that flowers annually. This idea is supported by the way in which the speaker says that they have "entered eternity" that summer, and concludes with an image of burial and rebirth:

I felt your two hands
bury me to release its splendor.

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