Louise Gluck, the American poet, has won the Nobel Prize for literature this year. Louise Gluck, pronounced ‘glick’ and meaning ‘luck’ in German, has published 12 collections of poetry and a few volumes of essays on poetry. She was born in New York in 1943 and is at present Professor of English at Yale University. Though not well known outside of America, she has won accolades in the USA with many laurels like Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and National Humanities Medal to her credit. The quintessence of her poetry is austere intelligence. Her writings focus on childhood and family life. Though there are autographical elements in her verses, she cannot be called a confessional poet. Her poems wrestle with human conditions like love, sex, separation, loneliness and mortality. We see in her poetry the grains of her Hungarian Jewish ancestry as she expresses her anguish over war and the desolation it causes. Like T.S.Eliot, she laments over the failure of history and culture and chides humanity for its reluctance to shun hatred and to espouse love.
She takes recourse to Greek mythology as she finds them relevant to the present day suffering and desolation of mankind.
Her poem The Wild Iris delineates her experiences of suffering, death and grief. The speaker in the poem pours out her heart how it is “terrible to survive as consciousness buried in the dark death”. The poem The Silver Lily resembles romantic poetry in its depiction of a scene at night as it is intimate and familial. She often alludes to characters in ancient mythology to make it relevant to her modern readers. She takes recourse to Greek mythology as she finds them relevant to the present day suffering and desolation of mankind. The plights of characters like Dido, the queen of Carthage; Persephone, the queen of the Underworld; and Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus come in handy to her to describe the present-day sufferings of women abandoned, punished and betrayed. The poems in the collection Vita Nova (new life) strike a strong note of optimism and remind us of Dante’s La Vita Nuova in which Dante feels rejuvenated by the sight of his beloved Beatrice. Hope comes to her as it comes to Dante and she writes, “I thought my life was over and my heart was broken./ Then I moved to Cambridge.”
It is strange that Gluck is intensely serious and abundantly witty at the same time. Her ability to create poetry that many people can understand, relate to, and experience intensely and completely stems from her deceptively straightforward language. She is also remarkably close to the diction of ordinary speech. Gluck writes so effectively about disappointment, dejection, loss, and isolation that reviewers refer to her poetry as ‘bleak’ or ‘dark’. Like Sylvia Plath, she is so very alienated and depressed and the greatness of her poetry lies in her rendering the alienation aesthetically interesting.
It will not be an exaggeration to say that this bard of Long Islands is as rich as the Bard of Avon in her description of the web of life.
–Prof. P. Vijayakumar