Louise Glück’s 2014 poetry collection Faithful and Virtuous Night starts with a poem called “parable” that introduces the narrator’s understanding of aging and its effects on two seemingly different people. She writes, “ah, behold how we have aged … those who believed we should have a purpose / believed this was the purpose, and those who felt we must remain free / in order to encounter truth felt it had been revealed.” This opening poem reveals two things I tend to look for in Glück’s poetry: her acute observation of the world, and the universality of her poetry. Even though Glück is usually considered an “autobiographical” poet, her work extends the individual experience to an all-embracing yet unique epiphany of life. Whether Glück does it using the mythological archetypes and lyricism of her earlier work or the more general but nonetheless precise narrations in her recent work, her poetic voice never fails to impress and relate.
In Faithful and Virtuous Night, Glück takes the intriguing persona of an aging male painter, with which she explores varying concepts including age, inspiration, childhood, family, and the artists’ relationship with critics. The collection began, conceivably, in a European countryside. The narrator then goes on talking about his present life, sometimes including flashbacks of his childhood. The narrator comes to various epiphanies from his observation of nature, his memories of his family, and his sparing conversations with other people. Near the end of the collection, the narrator moved to Montana, where he continues to reflect on his life.
On the surface, the narrative of this collection does seem a bit bland. However, the beauty of Glück’s poetry lies not in the exceeding drama provided to the readers. Rather, Glück aims to find epiphanies from ordinary events of life. She is constantly struck by the simple act of opening a blind, turning a page, or hearing the ringing of a phone. In the context of dealing with old age, those moments are subsequently transformed into clarity, new understandings, and thus, revivals. However, Glück is not looking for spontaneous, easy consolations to a capriciously depressing life. They are doorways to more questions and opportunities for discovery. Glück is unwilling to draw any sort of conclusions for her character or poem. She exhibits an unflinching attitude toward the world despite its inevitable tragedies. I hope you will find the same thing when reading her work.