Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The poems in The Triumph of Achilles explore sexuality and power, the relation of Eros and Art, the conditions of endurance, and the differences between the aesthetics of men and women. Louise Glück employs a stark, declarative poetry that often grounds its arguments in classical Greek mythology or biblical allusions. Throughout these poems, Glück anatomizes desire and reveals the deep structures that still define the female body.

The twenty-six poems in The Triumph of Achilles are arranged in three parts. Of these poems, eight are long poems divided into sections, some of which are titled. Most illustrative of her long poems is “Marathon.” Placed at the heart of this collection, “Marathon” consists of nine titled sections that trace, through juxtaposition rather than any sequential ordering, the course of a romantic relationship. This emphasis on the long poem, like that on fusing myth with contemporary life, first appears in Glück’s previous collection, Descending Figure (1980). Through her use of the long poem, Glück not only recasts the idea of lyric but also redefines the nature of confessional poetry.

Whereas “Marathon” draws together many of Glück’s thematic and stylistic concerns, the collection’s opening poem, “Mock Orange,” establishes the stringent tone that runs throughout the collection. In this poem, Glück rejects the romantic, sensual qualities of the fragrance of mock orange; in its cloying scent, it is as paralyzing as a man’s body, “the man’s mouth/ sealing my mouth.” The oppressive division between the genders is explicit. The aesthetic choices allowed women are controlled—or usurped—by the male: He seals—either approving or silencing—the poet’s voice.

“Mock Orange” is typical of Glück’s poetry in that it relies on few...

(The entire section is 760 words.)