By Louise Glück
A Village lifestyles, Louise Glück's 11th selection of poems, starts within the topography of a village, a Mediterranean global of no certain second or place:
All the roads within the village unite on the fountain.
Avenue of Liberty, road of the Acacia Trees—
The fountain rises on the heart of the plaza;
on sunny days, rainbows within the piss of the cherub.
Around the fountain are concentric circles of figures, prepared through age and in levels of distance: fields, a river, and, just like the fountain's contrary, a mountain. Human time superimposed on geologic time, all taken in at a look, with none undue sensation of velocity.
Glück has been often called a lyrical and dramatic poet; considering that Ararat, she has formed her austere intensities into book-length sequences. the following, for the 1st time, she speaks as "the kind of describing, supervising intelligence present in novels instead of poetry," as Langdon Hammer has written of her lengthy lines—expansive, fluent, and full—manifesting a peaceful omniscience. whereas Glück's demeanour is novelistic, she focuses no longer on motion yet on pauses and durations, moments of suspension (rather than suspense), in a dreamlike current stressful within which poetic hypothesis and mirrored image are attainable.
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However, Joan of Arc, whose presence has been largely unremarked in Rich’s work, is neither a simple figure of enabling self-knowledge or female agency nor an uncomplicated symbol of history’s significance. Instead, she inhabits Rich’s work, as she does cultural space in general, as a figure of blurred edges, an image of uncertain boundaries. As Mary Gordon observes, Joan of Arc “bursts out of categories,” both occupying the “history and culture” that formed her and “transcend[ing]” them, “remain[ing], in her essential shape, mysterious” (2000, 27).
A truth of history is that “wise-women [have been] charred at the stake,” as noted above. In the poems of A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, Rich registers the “updraft / of burning life”; strands of hair burn; Ethel Rosenberg’s “body sizzling half-strapped whipped like a sail” before she “finally burned to death like so many”; and the mind of a nineteenth-century heroine “burns . . ]11 (2002, 212) Rich’s early statement in “The Burning of Paper,” “I know it hurts to burn,” admits the paradox that one can both know and never know another’s pain—acknowledging, as Elaine Scarry puts it, the “absolute split between one’s sense of one’s own reality and the reality of other persons” that pain exposes (1985, 4).
As Greenwald puts it, there is a difference between “burning through” and “burning up” (1993, 99). If burning the texts does not disturb Rich as much as it does her (male) neighbor, it is because these are the texts that name her—and Joan of Arc—as exceptional, and therefore unreproducible or unrepresentative, when they name them at all. Rich also realizes that this destruction erases a history that must be known in order to comprehend the present and imagine the future. Betsy Erkkila quotes emphatically Rich’s injunction that women must be knowledgeable about past literature, “not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us” (1992, 168).