Louise Glück

Great Writers

Louise Gluck, Photo credit: Gasper Tringale

Louise Glück

American poet and essayist, Louise Glück (1943-2023) was the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Award. Glück was born in New York, grew up on Long Island, and had a special connection to Vermont where she lived and taught at Goddard College for many years and served as Vermont poet laureate from 1994 to 1998. She was also U.S. poet laureate in 2003-04. Glück died at her home in Cambridge, Mass., on Oct. 13, 2023. She was 80.

Glück’s first published collection, 1968’s “Firstborn,” won acclaim from the Academy of American Poets. But soon after, she experienced debilitating writer’s block. She said that when she got to Vermont in 1971, she started writing again.

“My writing life at that point was spent sitting in front of a piece of white paper at a typewriter, completely paralyzed,” she said in an American Academy of Achievement podcast, "What it Takes." “The minute I got to Vermont, I thought, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ It was one of the most dramatic, transformative experiences of my life. I started writing with a fluency that I had never experienced.”

Her 13 poetry collections include 1992’s “The Wild Iris,” a Pulitzer Prize winner that chronicles the progression of a New England garden from spring through summer:

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

The Past

By Louise Glück

Small light in the sky appearing
suddenly between
two pine boughs, their fine needles

now etched onto the radiant surface
and above this
high, feathery heaven—

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine,
most intense when the wind blows through it
and the sound it makes equally strange,
like the sound of the wind in a movie—

Shadows moving. The ropes
making the sound they make. What you hear now
will be the sound of the nightingale, Chordata,
the male bird courting the female—

The ropes shift. The hammock
sways in the wind, tied
firmly between two pine trees.

Smell the air. That is the smell of the white pine.

It is my mother’s voice you hear
or is it only the sound the trees make
when the air passes through them

because what sound would it make,
passing through nothing?

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