Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Metamorphosis” is both a dry-eyed look at a dying man and a tightly controlled expression of self-preservation. The poet is trying to resolve her feelings toward her father, understand her family’s past, and plan for her own future. Her terse, often oblique statements suggest that these related processes are difficult for her and not easily put into words.

Characteristically, Glück relies as much on the absence of detail as on specific information to convey the import of her message. Even the space between the separate sections has a weight to it; the poem moves stoically toward its resolution. “Metamorphosis” precedes by five years Glück’s fifth collection of poems, Ararat (1990), which is a sequence of thirty-two poems about her family. In the later collection, Glück’s father has died, and many of the poems deal with her continuing efforts to resolve her feelings for him.

The last poem in Ararat suggests that Glück has gone beyond the conflicting emotions and tentative reconciliation of “Metamorphosis.” In “First Memory,” she writes: “I lived/ to revenge myself/ against my father, not/ for what he was—/ for what I was.” She concludes that the emotional pain she felt while growing up did not mean that she was unloved, but rather, “It meant I loved.” The ending of “Metamorphosis” hints at such a resolution but does not state it outright. It is a poem about the process of overcoming...

(The entire section is 507 words.)