I get it.
With the Middle East exploding and our system of government under siege, with the proliferation of guns threatening us all and a renewed fear of Covid struggling to make headlines...with all that to encumber us, marking the death of a single poet seems trivial, if not ludicrous.
But Louise Glück died last week, and she deserves more than a passing reference for all those who read and loved her work.
In the age of Internet search engines, you can find her biography everywhere, and the fact that she has been a Pulitzer Prize winner and our Poet Laureate is nothing to take lightly. But all of us who read poetry and have favorite poets care little for their biographies and instead let their verse tell us their stories. Or often, ours.
When I first learned of Louise Glück, I was enrolled in a contemporary poetry course that required us to purchase an anthology. And there, among others who had already become giants—Kunitz and Lowell, even Plath and Sexton—was Louise Glück. They were all pretty much new to me, and I remember that her contribution to the anthology was a poem of only eleven lines—"Early December in Croton-on-Hudson." It was never part of any assignment, and with my student penchant for reading only what was necessary, I don't know how I stumbled across it. But it's one of the few pieces of literature I've read that gave me the feeling of having been there, of having seen the ice, the snow, the dead pines—of remembering something I had never experienced.
Paintings can do that; word paintings also possess that power.
The comedian Steven Wright used to deadpan that he enjoyed reminiscing with strangers. The absurdity of that line still makes me laugh, but every time I read that poem, I am in fact doing just that—reminiscing with someone I have never met about an experience I never had.
For people who want to know what a poem means, or wish to have it explained, I will save you the disappointment of reading further...I don't plan to do that. However, if you'd like to read the poem, it's right there...you know...on the off chance you might also have been in that car on Christmas, under the spiked sun, next to that frozen river, delivering presents.
It might be worth finding out.
Early December in Croton-on-Hudson
Spiked sun. The Hudson’s
Whittled down by ice.
I hear the bone dice
Of blown gravel clicking. Bone-
pale, the recent snow
Fastens like fur to the river.
Standstill. We were leaving to deliver
Christmas presents when the tire blew
Last year. Above the dead valves pines pared
Down by a storm stood, limbs bared . . .
I want you.
Louise Glück, 1968