Louise Glück, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 80, was a celebrated American poet whose work explored universal human themes such as love, nature, trauma, family conflict, motherhood, marriage, intimacy, memory, loss, and death.
In 2020, Glück received the Nobel Prize in Literature. She wrote powerful, lyrical poetry that deeply touched all her readers. Glück was a graduate of the esteemed Sarah Lawrence College and of Columbia University’s School of General Studies.
While we were only eleven years apart, we grew up in the same part of the country, Long Island, New York, where there was a heavy concentration of Jewish families. Many of us were born Jewish and understood our heritage — for example, my father was a Holocaust survivor — but we didn’t practice the traditional rituals of our ancestors; we honored them instead. Glück described her Jewish upbringing as “rudimentary,” and saw her connection with Judaism, like many of us, as ambivalent.
In a 2014 article in The New York Times, poet Peter Campion wrote about Glück, “Few living poets have dwelt as successfully on the past. Often employing the idioms of depth psychology — the analytic koans, the mythic analogies — she tends to approach her narratives of familial and erotic love from the side of their endings, with more than a touch of fatalism.” Her poetry was largely confessional and autobiographical, but she drew on stories from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, in addition to being influenced by Greek mythology and fairy tales.
In one of my monthly newsletters a few years ago, I reviewed Glück’s wonderful collection, Winter Recipes (2021), which I described as a book of reflective poems, in which Glück looked back on her life with a perspective and contemplation from the mundane to the more complicated. In this book, Glück wrote a lot about her deceased sister. Her style is a refreshing way to reexamine one’s life to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, but always remembering that we come into the world alone and we die alone. So many lines resonated with me, such as “You must find your footing/before you put your weight on it” and “The part of life/devoted to contemplation/was at odds with the part/committed to action.”
Glück’s poetry requires active reading and listening, as she had so much wisdom to share with the universe. We have lost a beloved poet too early. As Glück notes in her poetry collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014), winner of the National Book Award, “I think here I will leave you. It has come to see there is no perfect ending. Indeed, there are infinite endings.”