We tend to remember the great women poets of recent generations who died most dramatically:
Sylvia Plath turned on the gas and died of asphyxiation.
Anne Sexton chose carbon monoxide in her garage.
Earlier in the century Sara Teasdale overdosed on barbiturates.
Others have jumped to their deaths, drowned in the ocean, or swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills.
But Louise Glück lived, and maybe because of that has failed to reach the rock-star level of some others. But this week Ms. Glück, now 77, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She is the first American winner since Bob Dylan in 2016, and the first female poet to win since Wislawa Szymborska, a Polish writer, in 1996.
In my previous life when I taught poetry, we flew through so many poets that we hardly had time to catch our breath, but I always set a day aside for Glück, and I always made sure we looked at her "Early December in Croton on Hudson."* In the fifty years since I first read it, I have never grown weary of it—the sounds especially, the clipped phrases, and the recent snow, which, in her words, "fastens like fur to the river." It is an indelible image.
The piece is dark and foreboding and even the couple's car abandons them, but as with many of her poems it doesn't depress or discourage us...or them. There is a warmth in the simplicity of the words, and for me a feeling of nostalgia though I have never been in Croton-on-Hudson. To make us want to return to a place we've never been is a gift only the most brilliant writers possess.
The honor for Louise Glück, who was also named America's poet laureate in 2003, is long overdue, and though the pandemic will preclude her traveling to Stockholm for the ceremony, its prestige will not be diminished. Upon learning of her award, Ms. Glück said she was “completely flabbergasted that they would choose a white American lyric poet.”
For those of us who love her work, we're less flabbergasted than delighted.
*"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.