Louise Glück

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Glück, Louise (Vol. 7)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2222

Glück, Louise 1943–

Ms Glück is an American poet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)

[Louise Glück's] poems are brief and terse; her diction is like a clenched fist, or a muscle-cramp. Her poetic world is an externalization of intense inner experience, and instead of the wholeness of nature, she impresses on us, over and over, the trauma of being alive, of feeling anything at all. Her poems are a succession of shocks, and it doesn't particularly matter whether the specific piece is autobiographical or not. Miss Glück mixes the autobiographical and the persona poem, but both of them come out as "I" poems and are powered by the same painful charge. She is working out for herself an idiom which is interesting and recognizable and will, I imagine, become even more personal in the future. That it is firm, tough, jerky, and often understated is not remarkable in a time when firm, tough, jerky, and understated writing is de rigeur; but in Miss Glück's case it hangs together—no, sticks together; there is a glutinous feeling about the successful poems. The elemental physical connections she writes about are, more often than not, realized in her diction….

Miss Glück's world is often violent, but the violence is not imposed from the outside; it is the price we pay for being born and, therefore, involved. (p. 324)

Lisel Mueller, in Poetry (© 1971 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), February, 1971.

[The] advance between 1968 ("Firstborn") and 1975 ["The House on Marshland"] is phenomenal. Just as the most depressing thing about ordinary well-meaning verse is its predictability—in logic, emotional "curve," and choice of language, so the most profound source of elation in reading a new species of poet is the surprise in every line as a new voice and a new sensibility declares itself. Glück no longer sounds at all like Hart Crane, Lowell, or Lawrence; she sounds only like herself. The few poems from this collection that I had seen earlier in journals rise from the page wholly remembered, still entire as pure glimpse, refusing to divulge their secret, though one senses how extremely well-made they are. Glück's poems bear almost no relation to the "real" world, realistically perceived. Even the poems about abortion in the first volume are, except for occasional collapses into poverty of statement, remarkably free of journalism; instead, they draw landscapes of visionary dreariness, to borrow a term from Wordsworth…. Now, though a violent perception has not ceased, violent language has. Glück's poems are almost dreamy; they drift in a reflection like the moon in a pool (the moon and the pool recur as powerful counters in her private language)…. (p. 37)

There is nothing diffident about a poet who dares to call one poem "The Magi," and another "To Autumn," recalling the immortal poems of those titles by Yeats and Keats. As it happens, neither of these is among the best poems of the volume, but they indicate Glück's tacit defiance and self-assertion. I find the family poems unforgettable…. No poet at 32 can be expected to reach [a] preternatural equilibrium in every poem, but the poems in the first half of this collection (the most recent?) almost always do. These reticent equivalents of the inner life seem like moments of experience transposed into a key almost out of our hearing-range, so that we strain a little to hear a music almost escaping its moorings to the mortal. They float on a parallel plane, these poems, and send down filaments to hearers below, tantalizing threads which require...

(This entire section contains 2222 words.)

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of us an almost disembodied attention. A very peculiar power, and a new style, commanding in its indifference to current modes. (p. 38)

Helen Vendler, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 6, 1975.

["The House on Marshland"] has windows only on the moon and the garden, not on freeways or history, but the windows are purer than most glass, and any reader with eyes in his mind will cherish the apparitions of seasons and the ghosts of beings nearly human as they themselves watch, wait, and listen. These are small poems—fifteen of the thirty-five sonnet-length or shorter—that choose to admit impressions rather than feelings, to frame remarkable pictures rather than muck around in the marsh of human struggles. Even the "raw flesh" of "Nativity Poem" is lost among linen, gold harps, and "silken chickens," while the poem starting with "sodden ditch" and dead twig soon yields to the breeze and daffodils. Nature herself has as much animation as the other beings, and the trees—willow, spruce, pine, beech, elm, apple, plum, pear—are especially vigorous as they blossom and leaf. There are several perfect poems in these thirty-six pages (such as "The School Children," the coldness of ritual among the great glory of nature and color), and the perfection is of a kind, the exquisite construction of a small silent object, one of the things a poet may choose to do. (p. cx)

Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1975, by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 51, No. 3 (Summer, 1975).

The House on Marshland lacks some of the verve of [Firstborn, Louise Glück's] first volume—the characteristic muscularity of language, the skillful use of ellipsis, the yoking of some hard and unlikely images—but it gains in other ways. Part of the charisma of the new volume is its calm surehandedness. Glück's ear never fails her; she manages to be conversational and lyrical at the same time, a considerable achievement when so much contemporary poetry is lamentably prosaic. Her range is personal and mythical, and the particular genius of the volume rests in its fusion of both approaches, rescuing the poems from either narrow self-glorification or pedantic myopia. Glück has a gift for getting the reader to imagine with her, drawing on the power of her audience to be amazed. She engages a "spectator" in a way that few other poets can….

Despite the brilliance, metaphors in a few of the Firstborn poems are too rich and sometimes distracting, similes too conscious. Even the force of a poem like "The Inlet" cannot very well sustain "the sunset leaked like steak blood."

The House on Marshland is the mature achievement of a rare poet who has found since her first volume—not a distinctive voice, since Glück is always unique—but a wider control. The poems of this second collection (excepting a few) are less vigorous, but more uniform, and they are written with a majesty of ease that belies craft. There is a mellow acceptance of some rankling ironies put forth in Firstborn (the topical matter of the two volumes is similar; the treatment is not). There is a panoptic sadness that mourns things lost (childhood, innocence), allowing the poet a greater range of vision than would have been possible in Firstborn, because we can guess, Glück years later knows the meaning of taking chances. (p. 5)

It is hardly an accident that so much of the imagery in The House on Marshland is Eden-like, or that the titles of the first and last poems in the volume are "All Hallows" and "The Apple Trees." "All Hallows" is a harvest poem, but it remains for the rest of the book to disclose what price must be paid for "harvest," for experience. (pp. 5-6)

The young bride in a poem called "Bridal Piece" from Firstborn says: "I want/My innocence. I see/My family frozen in the doorway/Now, unchanged, unchanged." The longing for innocence in The House on Marshland is more qualified. The necessity of being "likewise / introduced to darkness" has become Glück's reality; it has given her poems texture and tension almost unequaled by any other contemporary poet. (p. 6)

Anna Wooten, in The American Poetry Review (copyright © 1975 by World Poetry, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Anna Wooten), July/August, 1975.

The House on Marshland, with its thirty-five brief poems, is [Louise Glück's] first book since her debut eight years ago with the highly praised Firstborn. That severe, searing volume could shelve like peeled soup cans the monotonous weeks of a married life, or satirize the contracting national myth—all in a blistering lyric that owed something, I think, to the impacted ferocity of Lowell's early work. Her new book, after a long silence, is strategically cast in a different key. The landscape she assembles here is more relaxed and natural; her pastorales, domestic details, and small favors all have a casual air that conceals their art…. Glück has scoured both her experience and her style, and while one regrets so slim a sheaf, one is grateful for its achieved balance. Undoubtedly this is one of the year's enduring books.

To have mentioned Firstborn is to recall that there are usually two sorts of first books: the one that stitches together fits and starts in a rather anonymous enterprise to convert evidence into proof; and the other—like Glück's—that rewrites variations on a central, often absent, text. (pp. 99-100)

J. D. McClatchy, in The Yale Review (© 1975 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Autumn, 1975.

For Glück involvement in process is … pain but (in the words of "The Fortress") "the proper pain." Although distressed by the tragic descent first of birth, then of sexual love, then of death, and delighting only in the upward lashes of the breaking waterfall, the propulsions back to wholeness, Glück is ready to pay for whatever desire can call "into being." She is inordinate and worldly, infantile, realistic.

With her emotional ambivalence this poet of "the heart on its blue stalk" pushes out the walls of her narrow, because radical, subject. And her imaginative approaches are almost always a fine surprise. Moreover she diversifies herself through dramatic roles. As yet she has evaded the monotony that besets most obsessive writers, if without any margin to spare.

With The House on Marshland Glück enters her majority as a poet. Her earlier poems are tense performances, the light a little too strong, with Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Browning noticeably coaxing from the wings. The poems are brilliant but lack resonance. You cannot believe a one of them. They suffer from a too-conscious subject and skill. Their style, as Proust said of Flaubert's is a conveyor belt: each ranked image does its intended work and at the end you are complete with understanding. "In its cage, the broken/Blossom of a fan sways/Limply, trickling its wire, as her thin/Arms, hung like flypaper, twist about the boy"—this, for instance, is so clever that it occludes mystery. There is nothing left over for the reader to imagine.

Now Glück gives us illuminations identical with mystery; now her phrases are lighted from within. The new work has a lovely, one wants to say proper, organic softness and progression. The prohibitive polish is gone. The new voices are not locked into "character" but speak with a reflective latitude—as enigmatical to themselves as every "I," every inwardness. Even the patent dramatic impersonations glow with an unconsumed fire. Glück's insane murderess, for instance, commands metaphoric genius …—she could, you feel, rage on beyond the final line. And the aristocratic letter writer of "Brennende Liebe—1904" so uncannily evokes a softly burning elegant trance of love that even an Isak Dinesen must envy her.

Glück's words are now less crowded and the images no longer get in one another's way. Each detail possesses a maximum power. (pp. 352-53)

Glück's new prose elegance, European in its easy grace, is a music of manner, distinguished for its supple continuity and sense of shape. She does wonderful, courteous things with sentences, her line-breaks abetting….

Everywhere in her language invention agrees with taste. She manages to be at once bold and restrained. "Sap rises from the sodden ditch/and glues two green ears to the dead/birch twig. Perilous beauty—": originality could not be at the same time more classic, the balance of the two more subtle. Among contemporary poets in English perhaps only Geoffrey Hill achieves a comparable pungent purity and poise.

Still a few passages might have been submitted yet again to the refining fire. For example the close of "Messengers" seems snarled and seems to contradict the beginning. And the "bitten apples" are too hackneyed, the "panes of color" too decorative, for a poem so nearly great as "The Apple Trees." And granted that "everything she touches turns to music and legend," as Stanley Kunitz says, still she touches inferior matter in "The Shad-blow Tree" and "Gratitude"—and even in "Archipelago" and "The Magi."

Yet most of The House on Marshland is consummate, and when I read it I think Louise Glück must be my favorite living American poet (though I feel this way about a few other poets too). "The world is too full of echoes," as Isaac Rosenberg said, "and we seize on the real voice"; "we know our poem by its being the only poem." The appreciating imagination finds in all strong work a kind of absolute. Louise Glück commands this happy impression. (p. 354)

Calvin Bedient, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1976 by The University of the South), Spring, 1976.


Glück, Louise (Vol. 22)