Louise Glück, the poet whose often personal, always searching work won the Nobel Prize in 2020 and who served as the U.S. poet laureate for the Library in 2003-2004, has died at the age of 80. The cause was cancer, and she passed away at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the New York Times reported.
It was a notable passing in American letters, as Glück won almost every poetry award in the canon — the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Humanities Medal — during a career that established her as one of the nation’s greatest writers of the past half-century.
“Louise Glück was masterful in her craft,” said Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, in a statement. “The precision and beauty in her work spoke to all of her readers because it was a reflection of their own lives.”
She was born in New York in 1943, raised on Long Island and graduated from Columbia University, publishing her first book of poetry in the late 1960s. She rose to prominence in the 1970s, but her career ascended to lofty heights in the 1980s and 1990s, as awards, honors and fellowships poured in. She joined Yale University as a professor in 2004.
The Library has many resources on Glück, but perhaps none is more touching than a recording of her reading at an event nearly half a century ago. It’s from her second collection, “The House on Marshland,” at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on April 21, 1975. (She starts at the 36:50 mark.)
It is, in retrospect, a remarkable moment. The young poet, then in her early 30s, so much in front of her, so clearly nervous at the podium. A bit later in the program, she’ll say she was pleased that in this book she was better able to write love poems than in early efforts.
“Um, mostly they didn’t turn out well — I mean, not as poems but as experiences — but it was nice to be able to record them,” she said, drawing a laugh from the audience.
Still, there’s a solemn air here at the beginning. She’s introduced by another U.S. poet laureate, Stanley Kunitz, who closes his remarks by saying, “everything she touches turns to music and legend.”
Applause, silence, footsteps on the stage, papers rustle. The place is as quiet as church.
“Can you hear? In the back?” she asks the crowd softly, and you’re struck, from the vantage point of today, by how incredibly young she sounds.
Her first poem, then, “All Hallows.” Her voice — clear, slow, almost a chant — reads the first seven lines about a rural farm field, the hills darkening, the crops picked clean, a “toothed moon” rising. And then she reads the rest:
“This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
Distinct, gold, calling
Come here, little one
And the soul creeps out of the tree.”
It’s a voice, a vision, that the world would come to revere.
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