Remembering Nobel Laureate Louise Glück: A Legacy of Poetic
Louise GlückLouise Glück

Louise Glück: A Nobel Laureate’s Legacy

Louise Glück, the former American poet laureate and 2020 Nobel laureate, who revealed profound truths about love, loss, and survival through her deceptively simple poems, has passed away at the age of 80.

Louise Glück’s poetry often defies the norms of the world, offering a voice to the often unreliable but essential realities of knowledge and connection,” said Jonathan Galassi, Glück’s editor and the chairman of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Award-Winning Legacy of Louise Glück

Glück was one of the most celebrated American poets of her time, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993 for her collection “The Wild Iris,” a National Book Award for Poetry in 2014 for “Faithful and Virtuous Night,” and a National Humanities Medal, among other honors. In 2015, she received additional accolades from President Barack Obama.

She was often lauded as an eminently accessible poet, whose work “creates a horizon for individual existence,” according to the Nobel Prize Committee that awarded her the honor.

Louise Glück with Barack Obama
Louise Glück with Barack Obama

“Louise Glück’s poetry often defies the norms of the world, offering a voice to the often unreliable but essential realities of knowledge and connection,” remarked Jonathan Galassi, Executive Editor and Publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Glück’s longtime editor. “Her work is timeless.”

Louise Glück: An Artistic Heritage

Louise Glück was born in 1943 in New York City and brought up on Long Island. She once described her calling to poetry in her Nobel Prize biography as an “extraordinary invitation” to art that she felt in her family. Her father, a Jewish refugee who co-founded X-Acto, a popular cutting tool company, encouraged Glück and her siblings to embrace their creative impulses, write stories, and take classes in music, drama, and dance.

 She submitted her first complete book to publishers at the age of 16. Though it was not published, the lines written in her youth would resurface later in her works, “reshaped,” as she put it, in her later poems. Her recent Nobel Prize biography also acknowledged her childhood recollections: “The lines written in youth may reappear in later poems,” she explained, “a sort of shorthand, but with a difference.”

Louise Glück’s Resilience

Glück was expelled from high school for an eating disorder during her senior year. After nearly a year of treatment, she enrolled in poetry workshops at Columbia University in her hometown of New York City. She was just 23 when she completed her first published poetry collection, “Firstborn,” in 1968, but she struggled through a period of severe writer’s block afterward, which she referred to as “profound silence.”

 This silence persisted into the last decades of the 20th century, when she was invited to teach at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, during a moment of renewed interest in “new explorations of women poets.” She rebranded her new profession as a “miracle” and a “second calling” that inspired her to take up the pen once again.

Louise Glück: Poetry as an Intimate Conversation

During an appearance on a 1988 PBS special on Poetry in America, she remarked that the same sensibility she had felt “responsible” for her poetry had expanded to include others’ work as well. The program was called “Pokevision.”

During this period of creative revival, she also gave birth to her first child, Noah, at the age of 30. As a new, single parent, Glück challenged herself to explore love and loss, and she presented human experiences in various forms, often incorporating classical literary canons (such as in 1985’s “The Triumph of Achilles”) and drawing from her own experiences, from marriage to the death of her sister.

But like the works she was drawn to as a child, her poetry, for which she is most widely celebrated, was about fostering intimate conversations between the author and the reader. As she stated in her 2020 Nobel acceptance speech, “I felt that what was said in poetry was not said to others but to an inexpressible essence, a priest or a psychoanalyst, a confidant.” 

Louise Glück: Poetry of Hope Amidst Shattered Worlds

Her verse is often unpretentious, exact, and transparent. Glück’s poems speak directly to her readers, addressing transformation, grief, and the art of living. The theme recently gained traction with her 2022 collection, “Compositions from the Society of Cold,” much of which was written in response to the rise of COVID-19 during the summer of 2020.

Louise Glück Poetry
Louise Glück Poetry

In a bittersweet poem titled “Geese” from the 2022 collection, a character named Leo Cruz inspires Glück to envision a world beyond pandemics, where art is not just a form of survival:

We make plans.

To walk on paths together.

When I ask him,

When? Never:

We don’t say that.

He’s teaching me.

To dwell in imagination:

A cool wind

When I cross the desert, I can see his house far off.

Smoke rises. I think it’s a chimney; Leo is making clay pots in the desert, I imagine; I see people moving around the house, coming and going.

Ah, he says, you are dreaming again.

And I say, I’m glad I dream.

Fire is still alive.

“Yes, the world is shattering,” she said in an interview with National Humanities Medal recipient Sam Howe Verhovek in 2022. “But we’re here, we’re still alive. And the sense of possibility arises from this reality, from the opposition of humanity — from just needing to hope.”

Louise Glück: A Lifelong Journey in Poetry

Glück continued to write and teach throughout her life, most recently at Yale University and as a professor of poetry at Yale University. Winning the Nobel Prize in Literature had “unsettled” her but did not make her work any more complex, at least not intentionally. She stated in 2020, “Except that when it is extremely easy, writing is amusing.” “I’ve always wanted to be a poet, to create something that I’ve never heard before, to take myself out of my own work. It’s entirely astonishing.”

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