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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem exemplifies Louise Glück’s penchant for combining the personal with the abstract. As in most of her poems, the language is stark, the ideas are briefly stated, and the overall effect resonates with significance far greater than the actual scene described. In “Metamorphosis,” a relatively short poem, she mentions or alludes to the following: death, dying, excitement, suffering, solitude, love, mourning, fear, shock, and tenderness. These abstract words heighten the emotional impact of the sequence’s three brief scenes: the mother tending to the father, the daughter observing the sick father, and the daughter tending to the father.

The abstractions occur in lines that are otherwise understated and conversational, such as the beginning of the second section: “My father has forgotten me/ in the excitement of dying.” Glück’s poems often reflect this overlapping of the ordinary with the extraordinary. A line that begins with a seemingly simple declaration suddenly evolves into a powerful observation or epiphany. This pattern is also seen in whole poems. In each section of “Metamorphosis,” the concluding lines cast a new light on the images and emotions sketched in the preceding lines.

The first section’s abrupt conclusion has a pained, almost hostile feeling to it. The poet refuses to sentimentalize the mutually dependent relationship between her parents. In the second section, the ending succinctly portrays a lifelong...

(The entire section is 441 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.