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Louise Glück

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English Literature

Louise Glück (1943-present) is an American essayist and poet born in New York City. She is one of the most accomplished and sensitive modern American poets. She has accomplished many feats, including winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1993, as well as a Nobel Prize in 2020. Glück's poetry is dark and beautiful, sensitive, inquisitive, experimental, and deeply human. She is currently a Writer-in-Residence at Yale University.

Content warning: contains themes of physiological and psychological illness, such as anorexia nervosa

Louise Glück Facts and Biography

Some quick facts about Glück's body of work, life, and poetry are listed below. These facts are by no means exhaustive, as her work and curious life could be interrogated much further than expressed here.

Purple Wild Iris, Louise Gluck, The Wild Iris, pixabay.comWild irises, as in "The Wild Iris" by Louise Glück. Pixabay.

Louise Glück was born in 1943 in New York City, but grew up in Long Island with her two parents. She developed Anorexia nervosa at a young age and struggled with the illness into her adult years. She began writing poetry at a young age and began taking courses in poetry workshops at St. Lawrence College as well as Colombia University for several years after her graduation from high school.

Glück is a sensitive poet who is interested in the existential, the sensitive, and the unknown. She explores the relationship of humanity to childhood, family, and our origins. She commonly includes themes of love and loss in her work, and explores the nature of humanity as something that is not eternal, rather short-lasting and all the more beautiful for it. Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her work done with childhood and emotional memory, and she explores trauma studies in her work as well.

Glück's work commonly includes allusions to Greek mythology, as she was taught Greek mythology at a young age by her parents. She also includes Biblical allusions in much of her work, and explores spirituality and faith as well. Some collections that include allusions to Greek mythology include her critically acclaimed work, The Triumph of Achilles (1985), as well as Averno (2006) and nearly all of her other collections.

Early life of Louise Glück

Louise Glück, born in New York City in 1943, spent most of her early years on Long Island. She lived with her parents, Daniel Glück (who invented the X-Acto Knife) and Beatrice Glück (a homemaker). Glück's parents reportedly taught her Greek mythology and read her classic stories, and Glück began writing poetry at an early age.

In her teen and early adult years, Glück developed Anorexia nervosa. She has claimed on several occasions that her development of this illness was a result of several traumatic events, one of which (the death of her eldest sister) occurred before she was born.1

Glück struggled with this loss into her late teen and early adult years. When she was a senior in high school she began psychoanalytic treatment, and several months after that took a leave of absence to concentrate on her rehabilitation. She has said that during this time she knew she was going to die, but more than that she did not want to die.2 Glück graduated high school in 1961 and continued psychoanalytic treatment for the next 7 years as she recovered from her illness.

Louise Gluck, circa 1973, Wikimedia Commons.Louise Glück, 1973. commons.wikimedia.org

As a result of her continued recovery, upon high school graduation Glück did not immediately enroll in a degree-seeking program. Instead, she enrolled in a poetry workshop at St. Lawrence College, and continued to enroll in these workshops at Columbia University between the years of 1963 and 1966, as they accepted non-degree students. While attending these workshops, around the age of 22 Glück began publishing her work. Her first publication was in the magazine Mademoiselle, founded in 1934.

Anorexia nervosa is an illness that disproportionately affects young girls and women between the ages of 13 and 25. Official diagnosis of anorexia nervosa came into existence in the late 1800s, and has been treated as both a physiological and psychological illness ever since. Anorexia nervosa can be life-threatening. Some symptoms include fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of one's self-image. If you or anyone you know suffers from anorexia nervosa, don't hesitate to seek help from your local healthcare provider or Eating Disorder Helpline.

Career and Later Years of Louise Glück's Life

As Glück began to pick up steam in terms of writing, she began publishing her poetry in several literary magazines and newspapers, including The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. She worked as a secretary after leaving Colombia to fund her living expenses, and married Charles Hertz Jr. in 1967. Glück published her first collection of poems, Firstborn, in 1968, which received critical acclaim.

Glück then suffered from self-proclaimed writer's block, which was resolved when she began teaching poetry at Goddard College in 1971. In 1975 she published her next collection House on Marshland, which is widely considered to be her breakthrough work.

In 1977 Louise Glück's marriage to Charles Hertz Jr. ended in divorce, and several years later she married author John Dranow. Glück went on to publish many works (outlined below) between the years of 1977 and 1980, and continued gaining popularity. In 1980, soon after publishing her collection Descending Figure, Glück's house in Vermont burned down, and she and John Dranow lost most of their possessions.

This tragedy inspired her to begin writing poems later included in her next and most famous collection, The Triumph of Achilles (1985). In 1984 Glück became a senior lecturer in the Department of English at Williams College. The following year, her father died, and his passing spurred the creation of her collection Ararat (1990).

The 1990s were a decade of literary success for Louise Glück, despite personal hardships such as her marriage to John Dranow ending in 1996. She published her collection Meadowlands, a collection focusing on the destruction of a marriage and the experience of divorce, that same year. In 2004, Glück became the Rosenkranz Writer-in-Residence at Yale University, where she remains today.

In 2020, Louise Glück received the Nobel Prize in Literature for her works exploring the nature of family and childhood, joining the small and powerful ranks of laureates. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Glück received this prize at her home and delivered her Nobel Lecture in writing. This lecture references William Blake and Emily Dickinson and their contributions to the relationships between poets and the wider public.

Louise Glück remains a Writer-in-Residence at Yale University.

Louise Glück's Books and Poetry Collections

Louise Glück has many poetry collections. Included below is a comprehensive list of her poetry collections, along with select honors for several of her collections.


Title PublisherYearSelect Honors
FirstbornThe New American Library1968
The House on MarshlandThe Ecco Press1975
Descending FigureThe Ecco Press1980
The Triumph of AchillesThe Ecco Press1885Melville Cane Award, National Book Critics Circle Award
AraratThe Ecco Press1990Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry
The Wild IrisThe Ecco Press1992William Carlos Williams Award, Pulitzer Prize, finalist for the National Book Award
Proofs and Theories: Essays on PoetryThe Ecco Press1994PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction
MeadowlandsThe Ecco Press1997
Vita NovaThe Ecco Press1999Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union, finalist for the National Book Award
The Seven AgesThe Ecco Press2001Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize
AvernoFarrar, Straus and Giroux2006Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union, L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award, finalist for the National Book Award
A Village LifeFarrar, Straus and Giroux2009Finalist for the Griffin International Poetry Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award
Poems: 1962-2012Farrar, Straus and Giroux2012Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Faithful and Virtuous NightFarrar, Straus and Giroux2014National Book Award
American Originality: Essays on PoetryFarrar, Straus and Giroux2017
Winter Recipes from the CollectiveFarrar, Straus and Giroux2021

Louise Glück's Poems

Louise Glück has hundreds of poems, along with many famous poems listed below. Her most famous poem by far is entitled 'Mock Orange' (1985) and is widely considered to be a feminist anthem.

Select PoemsYearDescription
'The Drowned Children'1968'The Drowned Children' is a haunting tale of children who freeze to death in a pond. Glück was criticized on several occasions for writing this poem, as it depicts a horrific event in a numb and seemingly apathetic manner.
'For Jane Meyers'1979'For Jane Meyers' is a poem about a life ending and the acceptance of mortality. Glück commonly explores these themes in her work and this poem depicts the ways in which we can see death as a passive and inevitable thing as opposed to our enemy.
'Mock Orange'1985'Mock Orange' is, perhaps, Louise Glück's most famous poem. Commonly cited as a feminist anthem, it examines the ideas of love, sex, and relationships.
'The Triumph of Achilles'1985'The Triumph of Achilles' is a poem about Achilles accepting his mortality as he develops fully as a human. It's an exploration into death and humanity.
'The Wild Iris'1992The eponymous poem for the collection The Wild Iris, the collection on the whole is a conversation between plants and a gardener. "The Wild Iris", in particular, is written from the perspective of a wild iris as it emerges into life from the darkness of beneath the soil.
'The Red Poppy'1992'The Red Poppy' is also from the collection The Wild Iris. The poem traces a red poppy as it unfurls its heart to the sun and experiences the sensation of individuality, rejection and loss.
'Nostos'1996'Nostos' is an allusion to Greek mythology. In this poem, the speaker recalls her childhood memories and explores the difference between modern day and her childhood. This is a nostalgic and somewhat sorrowful poem about the nature of aging.
'The Empty Glass'2001'The Empty Glass' is another poem about accepting the reality of mortality and loss of control. It follows a speaker that asks questions about the nature of existence, and ends with a revelation about the universe and our place in life itself.
'Aboriginal Landscape'2013This poem explores the themes of grief and loss. It traces a speaker who is visiting the graves of her parents and having an internal struggle regarding the nature of life and death.

Louise Glück Quotes

There are many, many quotations that Louise Glück is known for. She is not one who shies away from the nature of humanity, but rather she centers herself in the world as a person who writes vulnerable and sensitive poetry. Below are a few quotations that make Glück stand out as a writer and person with a distinctive and unique poetic voice.

We look at the world once, in childhood.

The rest is memory.3

Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her work regarding childhood and family. The above quotation is from her poem 'Nostos', which explores the concept of memory and the nostalgia of looking back on one's childhood. Glück explores the nature of humanity and childhood as well as the development of the self and soul in much of her work.

They say

there is a rift in the human soul

which was not constructed to belong

entirely to life. 4

This quotation above comes from the poem 'Persephone the Wanderer' (2006), and is well known for describing the sensation of not being fully grounded in the body, as well as the liminal state of human mortality. Glück is also known to interrogate this liminal space between the spirit and the self in her writing techniques and styles. She says regarding the ellipsis:

I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. 5

This quotation points to the way in which a writer can use formatting and punctuation to create new meaning in a piece of writing. Glück's interest in this form of writing demonstrates her existential, yet relatable and beautiful work.

See if you can find any of the poetic devices Glück is most well known for in her poetry. Can you find an example of ellipses in any of her work?

Louise Glück - Key takeaways

  • Glück attended Columbia University as a non-degree-seeking student, and studied poetry in workshops that led to her becoming so well-known.
  • Glück's most famous poem is 'Mock Orange', which is popularly viewed as a feminist anthem.
  • Glück was divorced two times and commonly writes about these experiences as she explores relationships and love in works such as Meadowlands.
  • She won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection The Wild Iris, and several poems from this collection are very well-known, including: 'The Wild Iris' and 'The Red Poppy'.
  • Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her writing surrounding childhood and family dynamics.

1 Daniel Morris. The Poetry of Louise Glück: A Thematic Introduction. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. 2006.

2 Louise Glück. Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry. 1994.

3 Louise Glück. 'Nostos'. Meadowlands. 1997.

4 Louise Glück. 'Persephone the Wanderer'. Averno. 2006.

5 Louise Glück. 'Disruption, Hesitation, Silence'. 1993

Louise Glück

Louise Glück's most famous poem is 'Mock Orange' (1985).

Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020 for her works regarding childhood and family. 

Louise Glück is currently a Writer-in-Residence at Yale University and continues to write and publish poetry. 

Louise Glück is an American poet and essayist well-known for winning the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize.

Louise Glück has written 16 books so far. 

Final Louise Glück Quiz

Question

What prize did Louise Glück win in 2020?

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Answer

The Nobel Prize in Literature

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Question

What year was Louise Glück born? 

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Answer

1943

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Question

What book did Louise Glück write that won a Pulitzer Prize?

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Answer

The Wild Iris

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What are some of the themes Louise Glück engages with? 

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Loss, love, mortality, death, childhood, family, and many more. 

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Where did Louise Glück study poetry?

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Answer

Colombia University

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What invention did Louise Glück's father create? 

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The X-Acto Knife

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How many times was Louise Glück divorced? 

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Twice

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What allusions does Louise Glück commonly make in her work?

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She commonly alludes to Biblical references and Greek mythology, as well as classical literature. 

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What illness did Louise Glück have in her young life that led to her seeking medical treatment? 

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Anorexia nervosa

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What tragedy inspired Louise Glück to begin work on poems that would be included in The Triumph of Achilles?

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Her house burned down in Vermont, and she lost most of her possessions. 

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Question

What form is "For Jane Meyers" written in? 

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Free verse

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When was "For Jane Meyers" written? 

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1979

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What purpose does capitalization serve in "For Jane Meyers"? 

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Capitalization indicates the words and concepts that are more than their literal meaning. 

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What themes does "For Jane Meyers" explore? 

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"For Jane Meyers" is a poem that explores the themes of life and death, as well as acceptance. 

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What things are commonly personified in "For Jane Meyers"?

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Plants

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Which of the following quotations is an example of simile? 

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"Jane is digging out  

her colored tennis shoes,  

one mauve, one yellow, like large crocuses."

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What features point to the likelihood that Jane is young? 

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Two different and brightly colored shoes, her eagerness at springtime, the juxtaposition between her and the Bartletts. 

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How long is the poem "For Jane Meyers"?

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20 lines

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What poetic devices are used in "For Jane Meyers"?

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Capitalization, juxtaposition, metaphor, personification, simile, symbolism.

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What are some notable images in "For Jane Meyers"?

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Answer

Mud pocketing the seed of the bluet, daffodils honking, two different colored shoes. 

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