The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Metamorphosis” is a forty-nine-line lyric sequence divided into three numbered sections: “Night,” “Metamorphosis,” and “For My Father.” It is written in free verse. Louise Glück has written a number of poems about her father; in this one, like the others, she seems to identify closely with her first-person narrator. She describes the metamorphosis of her powerful father into a childlike, dying man and her own development from fearful daughter into resilient adult.

“Night,” the first section of the sequence, is a double portrait of the poet’s parents. It begins by envisioning the couple at night in the father’s sickroom. The father will die soon—as evidenced by the “angel of death” hovering over the scene—but only the mother perceives that death is in the room. The second stanza describes the mother ministering to the father. Gently touching his hand and forehead, she treats him as if he were a child instead of her husband. The poet says that her mother touches the sick man’s body “as she would the other children’s,/ first gently, then/ inured to suffering.” While the dying man is portrayed as a vulnerable child, his wife is seen as a full-time mother who is used to suffering along with those in her care.

In the last stanza, the poet announces ambiguously, “Nothing is any different,” possibly implying that her parents have always had a child-mother relationship. Then she identifies the cause of the...

(The entire section is 578 words.)