An open access publication of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences
Winter 2014

On Louise Glück’s “Messengers”

Henri Cole
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HENRI COLE, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2010, is an award-winning American poet and Professor of English at Ohio State University. He is also poetry editor for The New Republic. His poetry collections include Touch (2011), Pierce the Skin (2010), Blackbird and Wolf (2007), and Middle Earth (2003), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

You have only to wait, they will find you.
The geese flying low over the marsh,
glittering in black water.
They find you.

And the deer–
how beautiful they are,
as though their bodies did not impede them.
Slowly they drift into the open
through bronze panels of sunlight.

Why would they stand so still
if they were not waiting?
Almost motionless, until their cages rust,
the shrubs shiver in the wind,
squat and leafless.

You have only to let it happen:
that cry–release, release–like the moon
wrenched out of earth and rising
full in its circle of arrows

until they come before you
like dead things, saddled with flesh,
and you above them, wounded and dominant.

–“Messengers,” from The First Four Books of Poems by Louise Glück. Copyright © 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1995 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Louise Glück’s first book, Firstborn, was rejected eighteen times before it was published. Or was it twenty-eight times? And there was an interval of seven years before her second book, The House on Marshland, was published by Ecco Press in 1975. But when it appeared, it was clear that a commanding new voice–classically restrained, yet emotional–had arrived. It was the late 1970s, and I was still a graduate student, reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Geography III, Seamus Heaney’s North and Field Work, John Ashbery’s Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, and Robert Hass’s Praise–they were game-changers, too. . . .

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