Louise Glück is a famous American poet. She was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020 for her poetry. She also won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Bollingen Prize. Glück was the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2003-2004. In her poems, Glück explores the themes of death, loss, desire, and nature. Most of her poetry is dark and somber in tone.
Some of her best-known poetry collections are The Triumph of Achilles (1985), The Wild Iris (1992), Vita Nova (1999), and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014). Here we are going to present 10 of the most famous poems of Louise Glück. Explore more about Glück’s best poetry here with us.
Louise Glück’s “Mock Orange” is considered a feminist anthem of the modern period. This piece is often anthologized and regarded as Glück’s best poem. In this poem, the mock orange flowers are used as a metaphor for love, sex, and relationship. Such a wide variety of ideas are fused with the olfactory imagery of the mock smell of the flowers. They resemble the odor of oranges. Likewise, the way things appear to be in a relationship does not always turn out to be great.
For example, Glück refers to the sexual union as a “humiliating premise” where two bodies just quench their desire, nothing else.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—
Do you see?
We were made fools of.
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.Watch: Louise Glück reads “Mock Orange”
“Celestial Music” is one of the best poems of Louise Glück. In this poem, the speaker describes her two sides, one that is responsive to life and sensibility. The other half of hers is passive, always overlooking and avoiding the harshness of events. This duality is what composes the music that rings in the celestial bodies, the music that encompasses the universe. Here are a few lines from the poem.
I have a friend who still believes in heaven.
Not a stupid person, yet with all she knows, she literally talks to God.
She thinks someone listens in heaven.
On earth she’s unusually competent.
Brave too, able to face unpleasantness.
We’re very quiet. It’s peaceful sitting here, not speaking, The composition
Fixed, the road turning suddenly dark, the air
Going cool, here and there the rocks shining and glittering-
It’s this stillness we both love.
The love of form is a love of endings.Source: Celestial Music
The Red Poppy
“The Red Poppy” appears in Louise Glück’s famous poetry collection, The Wild Iris. It is considered one of Glück’s best-known poems. This piece is written in an interesting manner. The speaker is none other than a red poppy that has opened its bright, red petals to show its heart to the sun. This poem explores the theme of mind, feelings, dejection, and loss. Read the first few lines from the text.
The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.Watch: Louise Glück reads “The Red Poppy”
The Wild Iris
“The Wild Iris” is the eponymous poem from the collection. The overall collection is written in the form of a conversation between flowers and a gardener and a deity. Glück won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award for the poetry collection in 1993.
The lovers of Glück’s poetry always keep this poem close to their hearts for the voice that speaks of death, unafraid. In this poem, the azure blue color of the iris shows the depth of the seas.
You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:
from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.Watch: Louise Glück reading “The Wild Iris”
This poem appears in Glück’s 1996 book of poetry, Meadowlands. The collection features love’s nature and the crisis in marriage. Nostos is a theme often used in Greek epics. It includes the heroic return of the central figure to him by sea. This piece is unlike an adventurous return to one’s previous state. Rather it is a nostalgic, sad return of a speaker to her childhood memories. She broods over the contrast between now and then that can be sensed from these lines of the poem.
There was an apple tree in the yard—
this would have been
forty years ago—behind,
only meadow. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.Source: Nostos
The Drowned Children
Do you know the American poet Greg Kuzma accused Glück of being a “child hater” for this poem? He might have found the description of children who froze to death in a pond a bit disturbing, dreary, and dark. But, Glück does not write this piece for her hatred for children. She just wants to alleviate the tension and harshness of the event in a calm and composed manner. Glück writes:
But death must come to them differently,
so close to the beginning.
As though they had always been
blind and weightless. Therefore
the rest is dreamed, the lamp,
the good white cloth that covered the table,
And yet they hear the names they used
like lures slipping over the pond:
What are you waiting for
come home, come home, lost
in the waters, blue and permanent.Source: The Drowned Children
This beautiful poem can not ever be excluded from the list of Glück’s most famous poems. It is about life. The poet goes on to describe in a simple manner. She uses day-to-day imagery and metaphors in order to draw the cycle of life and death. Read some of the memorable lines from the piece.
Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn’t see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.
The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.Source: Midsummer
Parable of the Hostages
“Parable of the Hostages” is another poem from Glück’s Meadowlands. This poem is based on Odysseus and his comrades’ journey back to their homeland, Ithaca. Glück explores the myth and reevaluates it from a feminist perspective. Let’s explore a few lines from the poem.
On the shores of Troy,
how could the Greeks know
they were hostages already: who once
delays the journey is
already enthralled; how could they know
that of their small number
some would be held forever by the dreams of pleasure,
some by sleep, some by music?Source: Parable of the Hostages
The Triumph of Achilles
The poem appears in the poetry collection by the same title. Glück won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry for this collection. This poem alludes to Achilles’ acceptance of morality that enables him to develop as a human. Here are a few lines from the poem:
What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to this loss?
In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.Source: The Triumph of Achilles
“Aboriginal Landscape” was published in Louise Glück’s National Book Award winner book of poetry, Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014). This piece explores the themes of loss and death. Glück describes how a speaker reacts while visiting her father’s grave along with her mother. Let’s explore a few lines from the text.
You’re stepping on your father, my mother said,
and indeed I was standing exactly in the center
of a bed of grass, mown so neatly it could have been
my father’s grave, although there was no stone saying so.
You’re stepping on your father, she repeated,
louder this time, which began to be strange to me,
since she was dead herself; even the doctor had admitted it.
I moved slightly to the side, to where
my father ended and my mother began.Source: Aboriginal Landscape
Louise Glück’s “Mock Orange” is her most famous poem. Her poems “The Wild Iris” and “The Triumph of Achilles” are also considered among her best-known poems.
To start exploring Glück’s poetic world, one should start with her poetry collection, The Wild Iris. This piece features garden flowers that converse with a gardener and a lord representing the nature of life.
- Check out Winter Recipes from the Collective (2021) — Explore Glück’s latest collection published after winning the 2020 Nobel Prize in Litearture. According to poet William Doreski, “Everyone seriously interested in poetry will be reading” the poems published in this collection, “for years to come.”
- Facts about Louise Glück — Explore interesting life facts of the poet.
- Louise Glück receives the Nobel Prize — Watch this short clip of the poet receiving the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature.
- Poems of Louise Glück — Explore more poems of Glück.
- Poet Profile & Poems of Louise Glück — Read more about the poet’s life and more of her poetry.