Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Louise Gluck


Part 5

Part 6


It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees; we are

companions here, not speaking
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist's
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception - At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world.

you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.


The brightness of the day becomes
the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.

My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.

Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.

Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.

Lie still and watch:
they give nothing but ask nothing.

From within the earth's
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness

my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

The more I read Gluck, the more I find myself admiring her work. Today's selection comes from her book - Averno [1] - which is a lovely collection of graceful, meditative poems about aging and mortality and grief. A handful of poems here ('Prism', 'Fugue') are a too fragmented, too insistently clever for my taste, but the rest are all consistently stunning.

I picked the last two sections of the long poem October both because they embody everything I like about Gluck's style, and also because they provide an excellent illustration of the way Gluck balances, in Averno, a sense of overwhelming despair with the kind of sad hope that comes only from acceptance. Hope is not a currency that poetry can presume to trade in, Gluck seems to say, but when you find yourself in the dark tunnel, what can the poem find to say to you, except that you are not alone? (that line, btw, is in italics in the original)

P.S. My plan for the rest of the week, just by the way, is to try and focus on 'new' poetry - poems from recent collections / magazines as well as by more contemporary poets.

[1] From the front pages of the book: "Averno. Ancient name Avernus. A small crater lake, ten miles west of Naples, Italy; regarded by the ancient Romans as the entrance to the underworld"


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