20 October 2020

Autumn

The winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature was the American poetess, Louise Glück (b. 1943). In the awarding committee's citation, they said this: "Louise Glück is not only engaged by the errancies and shifting conditions of life, she is also a poet of radical change and rebirth, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss". 

The Irish writer and critic Colm Tóibín said of her, "It is difficult to think of another living poet whose voice contains so much electrifying undercurrent, whose rhythms are under such control, but whose work is also so exposed and urgent".

Here's a typical example of Louise Glück's work:-

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Autumn

by Louise Glück


The part of life
devoted to contemplation
was at odds with the part
committed to action.

       *

Fall was approaching.
But I remember
it was always approaching
once school ended.

                            *

Life, my sister said,
is like a torch passed now
from the body to the mind.
Sadly, she went on, the mind is not
there to receive it.


The sun was setting.
Ah, the torch, she said.
It has gone out, I believe.
Our best hope is that it’s flickering,
fort/da, fort/da, like little Ernst
throwing his toy over the side of his crib
and then pulling it back. It’s too bad,
she said, there are no children here.
We could learn from them, as Freud did.

                         *

We would sometimes sit
on benches outside the dining room.
The smell of leaves burning.

Old people and fire, she said.
Not a good thing. They burn their houses down.

       *

How heavy my mind is,
filled with the past.
Is there enough room
for the world to penetrate?
It must go somewhere,
it cannot simply sit on the surface—

       *

Stars gleaming over the water.
The leaves piled, waiting to be lit.

       *

Insight, my sister said.
Now it is here.
But hard to see in the darkness.

You must find your footing
before you put your weight on it.

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If you have got this far, what is your response to Louise Glück's poem?

52 comments:

  1. What is my response to this particular poem? Not favourable.

    It's a fine example of why some people don't take to poetry. And that's before dissecting the actual content.

    Still, it's good of you to draw attention to her, since poetry often, though by no means always, is not easy to access and therefore generally underrated.

    U

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    1. I must be honest Ursula, I am also underwhelmed by this poem. Not the best advertisement for those who are not naturally at home with poetry.

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  2. I don't often read poetry but I just found this rather depressing.

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    1. I could write a happy poem about Lincolnshire's Trelawnyd...somewhere east of Gainsborough.

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  3. I got it. Nice work. Depressing it may be for some, but so much truth. Is that Obama giving her a hug? Great photo.

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    1. Yes it is Mr Obama. In Louise Glück's poetry every word counts. They have all been weighed and measured.

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  4. Never understood why poets get prizes. Surely all poems are important if they move the reader in some way?

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    1. Prizes do seem to be at odds with literary purpose but if Physics, Economics, Peace, Chemistry and Medicine can attract Nobel prizes then Literature should do that too. It is surprising that there isn't a Nobel prize for Music. I would nominate either Kansas or Little Mix.

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    2. The Nobel Peace prize was named after the man who invented Dynamite. Agree with you about Kansas.

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  5. Slightly ambivalent about it. I thought the sentiments were expressed very well but I found the rhythm of the piece uneven. But then I am not an academic so what do I know?

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    1. You know what you know JayCee. You have responded honestly without dismissing it.

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  6. Gloomy. Betjeman is my favourite poet, I can understand that.
    Briony
    x

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    1. I met a lass called Briony
      I took her home for tea
      And when my mother went outside
      I sat her on my knee.
      She snogged just like a whelk
      Clinging to a rock
      And when Mum came back in
      She was clinging to my mobile phone.

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    2. *She snogged just like a whelk.*

      That is so on the mark! Surprising, because I still cringe at the word snogging, and find whelks revolting, but a girl who can kiss like a whelk is, well ... perfick!

      My late brother said Grace Kelly was the best kisser on the screen, if you watched Hitch's *Rear Window*, but Jimmy Stewart didn't appear much interested in her needs as a woman. In Glasgow guys would have made all kinds of comments aloud in the cinema ... *I'll take her aff yer hands, Jimmy, nae bother pal!*

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    3. Ha-ha! That's funny. What would they have done if Grace Kelly had magically stepped out of the silver screen? Probably they'd have run hame like Oor Wullie in "The Broons"!

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    4. You know the rumour that Giancana and friends used Sinatra's genuine friendship with Princess Grace in order to get a Mob base inside Monaco?

      It has been said that President Kennedy's killers (the Men on the Knoll) flew into the States from Monaco. These guys were well known to those on the inside. They partied at a nightclub in Rio.

      Jackie's recorded interview with Arthur Schlesinger is in a locked vault, so who did she think murdered her husband?
      In *Murder Most Foul* Dylan describes the killers as *they*.

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  7. Until there was a feature on our main TV news about her having won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I'd not come across Louise Glück's name; hardly surprising, as I am not so much into poetry in the first place.
    That same evening, I went running with my friend; she is American and loves poetry. I asked her about Louise Glück and of course she knows her work well and owns several of her books. My friend originally wanted to study English Literature and Poetry at uni and then start a career as a writer of poetry herself. She told me that when she first read Louise Glück's poems in her late teens, she gave up on the idea, thinking - there goes my career, she's done it already. She still went to uni and got a decent job afterwards, these days working as a copywriter.

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    1. I hope that she still secretly writes poetry herself. Her voice will be her own. Why would she want to sound like Louise Glück?

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  8. It came to me one night as I was falling asleep
    that I had finished with those amorous adventures
    to which I had long been a slave. Finished with love?
    my heart murmured. To which I responded that many profound discoveries
    awaited us, hoping, at the same time, I would not be asked
    to name them. For I could not name them. But the belief that they
    existed -
    surely this counted for something?

    *Faithful and Virtuous Night~, Louis Gluck.
    Carcanet Press, Manchester, England (2014).

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    1. Powerful words John and they touch me more than "Autumn" did. Thanks for bothering to share them.

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    2. *Autumn* is better than we know, because it is about what we cannot know. I can't remember Freud saying that about children though he must have observed his own children as closely as Piaget did; and he lost his daughter Sophie (his Sunday daughter he called her) in her youth.

      If Meryl Streep read *Autumn* we would all feel that shiver down our necks which Osip Mandelstam called the real thing. The drone of words around us dulls our inner ear until Sylvia Plath, Ann Carson or Gluck wakes us up.

      *Insight, my sister said./ Now it is here./ But hard to see in the darkness.*
      That is like Burns seeing the field mouse:

      *Still, thou are blest, compar'd wi' me!
      The present only toucheth thee.*

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  9. If it is excrement Adrian, perhaps you can tell us why. Only this time try to be articulate, instead of sounding like a sad boy from the D-Stream.

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    1. I m presuming irony here hamel

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    2. No, the opposite of irony, John: Straight talk. Adrian's street culture has misled him into thinking that assertions without context have some value. He will go through life like that. The American critic Lionel Trilling wrote a book called *The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent*. The Moronic Inferno is all around us and must be bloody well challenged.

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    3. Adrian ...you were ironic , were u not?

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  10. The transformation that comes with aging; trepidation about the future; and yet, not without an appreciation of the beauty of the world, with stars over the water and the richness of (dangerously!) burning leaves.

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    1. I think that Louise Glück is probably an acquired taste. You have clearly read that poem with intelligence and an open mind Steve - unlocking some of its truth.

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  11. She makes you stop and think about things.

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    1. Good on you for bothering to read it and think about it Red.

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  12. I have a hard time understanding poetry, including this one. I feel like I'm back in school. With poetry is about how I feel, not what it's supposed to mean or what the author was trying to convey. And this one, makes me feel sad. Aging is difficult and oftentimes the wisdom comes to late to help us, although perhaps it could help our children or grandchildren. That's all I got.

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  13. The first stanza is prose: it is the thought that Churchill and Napoleon often had.
    Gluck is drawing us to the fourth stanza, where the poem lifts off.

    Little Ernst, throwing his toy away, is pre-vocal. He becomes one of Freud's neurotic patients. The analyst deals in memories or language.
    This isn't a sonnet yet it has the sonnet's turn, with the heaviness of mind in old age; we are like autumnal leaves *waiting* to be set alight.

    There is an echo of Emily Dickinson: the mind is greater than the universe. But men walk in darkness as Christ preached, so how do we find our *footing*?
    Far from being uncertain, her metre is complex, far from iambic.

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    1. Thanks for helping me to better appreciate this poem John.

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  14. Fall was approaching
    but I remember
    it was always approaching
    once school ended.


    Such an evocative sentence, pulling what was, what is, what is coming altogether in a few well chosen words. It is sad in a way, I suppose, but it is also the truth, put before us to ponder and make our peace with. Here in my country, it does seem as if the old people are burning down the house.

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    1. Thoughtful reflections Debby. Thank you.

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  15. My dad used to say there are doers and there are talkers. How clever of her to design the fallen leaf emoji too.

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    1. I realise that this may come as a big surprise to you but the leaf emojis are a decorative effect that I added myself!

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    2. Contemplation without action then.

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  16. I love poetry but there are many different degrees of it. This one seemed a bit disjointed to me although I understood what she was saying. The first verse I particularly liked. I think we all have our individual opinion on what we like in poetry. It is good to know the Nobel Prize for Literature was given to a poet. These days it almost seems like poetry is dying out compared to it's popularity in the past.

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    1. You considered the poem with an open mind Bonnie. That is all any poet can ask or expect.

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  17. The idea of the mind being so full of the past that the present day cannot be absorbed made me think of the stages of dementia. My elderly friend who once travelled the world now talks only of her childhood memories and cannot recall who has visited her that same day.

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    1. Yes, it looks like dementia, I didn't see it.
      *Old people and fire ... they burn their houses down.*

      *How heavy my mind is/ filled with the past./ Is there enough room/ for the world to penetrate.*

      A poem is a machine made of words someone said, but can a poem describe the mental processes of dementia? Gluck has done it, woundingly and numbly.
      Iris Murdoch said she knew she had been a writer but could not remember any of her books.

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    2. In case I frighten anyone, let me quote from a new paperback, *Life Lessons From A Brain Surgeon - The New Science and Story of the Brain* by Dr. Rahul Jandial.

      *One of the key reasons that rates of dementia have fallen sharply since the 1970s is the advent of improved treatments for heart ailments. What's good for the heart is actually very good for the brain. The steps you take to keep your heart arteries unclogged also keep brain arteries open.*

      At 260-odd pages this is an easy read with chapter sub-headings and special sections blocked out in darker tone.
      These have titles like *Neuro Gym: Let Your Mind Wander* and *Neuro Gym: Get Playful* and *Neuro Gym: Get Outside* which is what Neil's blog is all about.

      Though I'm a good sleeper I'm passing this on to friends:
      *If you don't fall asleep after 20 minutes get out of bed.*
      *Limit your exposure to bright light in the evening.*
      *Turn off electronic devices at least thirty minutes before bedtime.*

      Dr. Jandial concludes by saying that the rate of Alzheimer's is dropping. More people are living into their 80s and beyond *in excellent cognitive health*.

      To become a *super-ager* with healthy cognition three things count: Education, Social Networks, Physical Activity. The healthiest seniors are extroverted and have more social contact than their peers.

      You could also try reading Proust, but that's just me.

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    3. All good tips there John. I have no idea how old you are but I would guess late twenties or early thirties - unless of course I am already losing my mind. "Tom's a-cold!"

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    4. I was born in 1921, the same year as Judy Holliday. I asked her to marry me, seeing our future together in an apartment on Brooklyn Heights. Alas, she had eyes only for a jazz genius called Gerry Mulligan.

      I think about Judy when I hear her sing *The Party's Over* on YouTube, written by Jule Styne and Jerome Robbins.
      As Woody Allen says in Radio Days, *It's all over now, except for the memories.*

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    5. But that means you're 99 John. Surely not.

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  18. Well, I struggled through to the bitter end YP, and found myself wondering why I bothered. In fact, I've re-read it twice, and found it neither uplifting, insightful nor overwhelming - just disconnected random words. Dare I say that it's unlikely "Autumn" will bring her many new fans?
    Lilycedar summed up my feelings exactly - and like Bonnie, I'm a Betjeman fan!

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    1. It is great that you were prepared to read and re-read that poem CG. You came to it with an open mind but it simply did not float your boat. That's fine.

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