Cover image for Vita Nova
Vita Nova
Glück, Louise, 1943-
Personal Author:
First Ecco paperback edition.
Publication Information:
Hopewell, NJ : Ecco Press, 2001.

Physical Description:
51 pages ; 23 cm
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Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3557.L8 V58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3557.L8 V58 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Since, 1990, Louise Gl#65533;ck has been exploring a form that is, according to poet Robert Hass, her invention. Vita Nova -- like its immediate predecessors, a book-length sequence -- combines the ecstatic utterance of The Wild Iris with the worldly dramas elaborated in Meadowlands. Vita Nova is a book that exists in the long moment of spring, a book of deaths and beginnings, resignation and hope, brutal, luminous, and farseeing. Like late Yeats, Vita Nova dares large statement. By turns stern interlocutor and ardent novitiate, Gl#65533;ck compasses the essential human paradox, a terrifying act of perspective that brings into resolution the smallest human hope and the vast forces that shape and thwart it.

Author Notes

Louise Elizabeth Gluck, 1943 - Louise Gluck was born April 22, 1943 in New York City, New York. She grew up on Long Island and attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, both in New York State. She is best known for her award winning collection entitled "The Wild Iris".

After graduation, Gluck began teaching poetry, accepting positions at various colleges and universities. In 1968, her first collection entitled "Firstborn" was published. Seven years later she published "The House on the Marshland", and in 1985, "The Triumph of Achilles" won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. In 1993, she was an editor of The Best American Poetry anthology. Her last appointment was as Senior Lecturer in English at Williams College.

Louise Gluck is considered one of the most gifted poets of her generation. Known for her well-crafted use of verse and meter, she first garnered attention with "Firstborn", a collection of poetry from 1968. Full of angry emotion and disturbing tone, her poetry deals with the horrible and painful. In 1985, "The Triumph of Achilles" was released to thunderous applause, gaining awards in every category. It received the National Book Circle Award, the Boston Globe Literary Press Award and the Poetry Society of America's Melville Kane Award. Gluck has received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the Lannas Literary Award for Poetry, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations and the National Endowments for the Arts. Her collection "Ararat", (1990) received the Rebekah Johnson Bobbett National Prize for Poetry. Other collections include "The Garden" and "The Wild Iris". The "Wild Iris", perhaps her most award winning collection acquired the highest honor possible in 1993, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. It also received the Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award

In 1994 she was named Poet Laureate of Vermont, and was elected as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In 2003, she was named Poet Laureat of the United States.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gluck has won an armful of prestigious awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, for her elegant poems. Her newest work is a slender collection, but like a lithe and witty woman, it is resilient and full of surprise and light, sorrow and wisdom. Each poem is a meditation on spring, that is, on renewal, return, and reincarnation, and this endlessly poignant theme is perfectly expressed in Gluck's confident resurrection of the timeless tales of ancient Greece and Rome. She uses the passions and sufferings of Eurydice and Orpheus, Aeneas and Dido to muse on love and loss, and, more slyly and resonantly, to create a primer on what it is to be human. Gluck handles these figures like an antique and much-used chess set, as though she were a goddess herself looking down on our folly, then takes more earthly form in poems about girlhood and an unforgiving mother, and the tough lessons cruel lovers teach. There is grief here but humor, too, and a blessed sense of release. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Surely spring has been returned to me, this time/ not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet/ it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly." Reutrning to the seasonal myths inaugurated in her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris (1992), Glück's new poems chronicle delvings-down and rebeginnings, very much in the way her last book, Meadowlands, took on autumns and endings. Her chosen myth is now Orpheus, her other new interests dreams, dream-states and fragmentary memories. Meadowlands had tracked the slow collapse of Glück's marriage; Vita Nova follows Glück into the aftermath: "I thought my life was over and my heart was broken./ Then I moved to Cambridge." (That is, Cambridge, Mass., where some of these poems, such as "Ellsworth Avenue," are set.) Glück has long mastered the bitter, detachable aphorism: "You saved me, you should remember me." "No one wants to be the muse;/ in the end, everyone wants to be Orpheus." To these she adds, now, the surprisingly conversational aside: "Mommy's/ too ironic‘Mommy wouldn't do/ the rhumba in the driveway." Glück also casts poems partly in dialogue, from the terse interrogator of "The Burning Heart" ("Ask her if she regrets anything") to "the leaves" of "Evening Prayers": "Bedtime, they whisper./ Time to begin lying." The poems rely on negative space‘on what's left out‘and on psychological acuity; their stripped-down self-analyses cast their cold illumination far past her own life. Glück's psychic wounds will impress new readers, but it is Glück's austere, demanding craft that makes much of this seventh collection equal the best of her previous work‘bitter, stark, careful, guiltily inward, alert to myth. It is astonishing in its self-knowledge, and above all, memorable. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Glck's ninth collection flips between the mythic utterances of her earlier work and the tragicomic personal realism of her most recent book, Meadowlands (LJ 3/15/96). A literal point of departure, Vita Nova picks up where Meadowlands left off: after a marital breakup, when single life in a new locale eerily recalls life before marriage. It is framed by two poems of the same name ("Vita Nova," of course)Äone spoken by Persephone, the other an ironic address concerning a dream, a divorce, and a dog named Blizzard: "Blizzard/ Daddy needs you/...the kind of love he wants Mommy/ doesn't have, Mommy's/ too ironicÄMommy wouldn't do/ the rhumba in the driveway." Glck's probing, intimate voice takes the reader hostage, and her quiet, bitter humor penetrates to the bone: "In the bathtub, I examine my body./ We're supposed to do that./...I was vigilant: when I touched myself/ I didn't feel anything." Abstract without being vague, personal without being maudlin, Glck's exquisitely crafted work continues to astound. For all poetry collections.ÄEllen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One VITA NOVA You saved me, you should remember me. The spring of the year; young men buying tickets for the ferryboats. Laughter, because the air is full of apple blossoms. When I woke up, I realized I was capable of the same feeling. I remember sounds like that from my childhood, laughter for no cause, simply because the world is beautiful, something like that. Lugano. Tables under the apple trees. Deckhands raising and lowering the colored flags. And by the lake's edge, a young man throws his hat into the water; perhaps his sweetheart has accepted him. Crucial sounds or gestures like a track laid down before the larger themes and then unused, buried. Islands in the distance. My mother holding out a plate of little cakes-- as far as I remember, changed in no detail, the moment vivid, intact, having never been exposed to light, so that I woke elated, at my age hungry for life, utterly confident-- By the tables, patches of new grass, the pale green pieced into the dark existing ground. Surely spring has been returned to me, this time not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly. AUBADE The world was very large. Then the world was small. O very small, small enough to fit in a brain. It had no color, it was all interior space: nothing got in or out. But time seeped in anyway, that was the tragic dimension. I took time very seriously in those years, if I remember accurately. A room with a chair, a window. A small window, filled with the patterns light makes. In its emptiness the world was whole always, not a chip of something, with the self at the center. And at the center of the self, grief I thought I couldn't survive. A room with a bed, a table. Flashes of light on the naked surfaces. I had two desires: desire to be safe and desire to feel. As though the world were making a decision against white because it disdained potential and wanted in its place substance: panels of gold where the light struck. In the window, reddish leaves of the copper beech tree. Out of the stasis, facts, objects blurred or knitted together: somewhere time stirring, time crying to be touched, to be palpable, the polished wood shimmering with distinctions-- and then I was once more a child in the presence of riches and I didn't know what the riches were made of. THE QUEEN OF CARTHAGE Brutal to love, more brutal to die. And brutal beyond the reaches of justice to die of love. In the end, Dido summoned her ladies in waiting that they might see the harsh destiny inscribed for her by the Fates. She said, "Aeneas came to me over the shimmering water; I asked the Fates to permit him to return my passion, even for a short time. What difference between that and a lifetime: in truth, in such moments, they are the same, they are both eternity. I was given a great gift which I attempted to increase, to prolong. Aeneas came to me over the water: the beginning blinded me. Now the Queen of Carthage will accept suffering as she accepted favor: to be noticed by the Fates is some distinction after all. Or should one say, to have honored hunger, since the Fates go by that name also." THE OPEN GRAVE My mother made my need, my father my conscience. De mortuis nil nisi bonum . Therefore it will cost me bitterly to lie, to prostrate myself at the edge of a grave. I say to the earth be kind to my mother, now and later. Save, with your coldness, the beauty we all envied. I became an old woman. I welcomed the dark I used so to fear. De mortuis nil nisi bonum . UNWRITTEN LAW Interesting how we fall in love: in my case, absolutely. Absolutely, and, alas, often-- so it was in my youth. And always with rather boyish men-- unformed, sullen, or shyly kicking the dead leaves: in the manner of Balanchine. Nor did I see them as versions of the same thing. I, with my inflexible Platonism, my fierce seeing of only one thing at a time: I ruled against the indefinite article. And yet, the mistakes of my youth made me hopeless, because they repeated themselves, as is commonly true. But in you I felt something beyond the archetype-- a true expansiveness, a buoyance and love of the earth utterly alien to my nature. To my credit, I blessed my good fortune in you. Blessed it absolutely, in the manner of those years. And you in your wisdom and cruelty gradually taught me the meaninglessness of that term. THE BURNING HEART "... No sadness is greater than in misery to rehearse memories of joy...." Ask her if she regrets anything. I was promised to another-- I lived with someone. You forget these things when you're touched. Ask her how he touched her. His gaze touched me before his hands touched me. Ask her how he touched her. I didn't ask for anything; everything was given. Ask her what she remembers. We were hauled into the underworld. I thought we were not responsible any more than we were responsible for being alive. I was a young girl, rarely subject to censure: then a pariah. Did I change that much from one day to the next? If I didn't change, wasn't my action in the character of that young girl? Ask her what she remembers. I noticed nothing. I noticed I was trembling. Ask her if the fire hurts. I remember we were together. And gradually I understood that though neither of us ever moved we were not together but profoundly separate. Ask her if the fire hurts. You expect to live forever with your husband in fire more durable than the world. I suppose this wish was granted, where we are now being both fire and eternity. Do you regret your life? Even before I was touched, I belonged to you; you had only to look at me. ROMAN STUDY He felt at first he should have been born to Aphrodite, not Venus, that too little was left to do, to accomplish, after the Greeks. And he resented light, to which Greece has the greatest claim. He cursed his mother (privately, discreetly), she who could have arranged all of this. And then it occurred to him to examine these responses in which, finally, he recognized a new species of thought entirely, more worldly, more ambitious and politic, in what we now call human terms. And the longer he thought the more he experienced faint contempt for the Greeks, for their austerity, the eerie balance of even the great tragedies-- thrilling at first, then faintly predictable, routine. And the longer he thought the more plain to him how much still remained to be experienced, and written down, a material world heretofore hardly dignified. And he recognized in exactly this reasoning the scope and trajectory of his own watchful nature. THE NEW LIFE I slept the sleep of the just, later the sleep of the unborn who come into the world guilty of many crimes. And what these crimes are nobody knows at the beginning. Only after many years does one know. Only after long life is one prepared to read the equation. I begin now to perceive the nature of my soul, the soul I inhabit as punishment. Inflexible, even in hunger. I have been in my other lives too hasty, too eager, my haste a source of pain in the world. Swaggering as a tyrant swaggers; for all my amorousness, cold at heart, in the manner of the superficial. I slept the sleep of the just; I lived the life of a criminal slowly repaying an impossible debt. And I died having answered for one species of ruthlessness. FORMAGGIO The world was whole because it shattered. When it shattered, then we knew what it was. It never healed itself. But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared: it was a good thing that human beings made them; human beings know what they need, better than any god. On Huron Avenue they became a block of stores; they became Fishmonger, Formaggio. Whatever they were or sold, they were alike in their function: they were visions of safety. Like a resting place. The salespeople were like parents; they appeared to live there. On the whole, kinder than parents. Tributaries feeding into a large river: I had many lives. In the provisional world, I stood where the fruit was, flats of cherries, clementines, under Hallie's flowers. I had many lives. Feeding into a river, the river feeding into a great ocean. If the self becomes invisible has it disappeared? I thrived. I lived not completely alone, alone but not completely, strangers surging around me. That's what the sea is: we exist in secret. I had lives before this, stems of a spray of flowers: they became one thing, held by a ribbon at the center, a ribbon visible under the hand. Above the hand, the branching future, stems ending in flowers. And the gripped fist-- that would be the self in the present. TIMOR MORTIS Why are you afraid? A man in a top hat passed under the bedroom window. I couldn't have been more than four at the time. It was a dream: I saw him when I was high up, where I should have been safe from him. Do you remember your childhood? When the dream ended terror remained. I lay in my bed-- my crib maybe. I dreamed I was kidnapped. That means I knew what love was, how it places the soul in jeopardy. I knew. I substituted my body. But you were hostage? I was afraid of love, of being taken away. Everyone afraid of love is afraid of death. I pretended indifference even in the presence of love, in the presence of hunger. And the more deeply I felt the less able I was to respond. Do you remember your childhood? I understood that the magnitude of these gifts was balanced by the scope of my rejection. Do you remember your childhood? I lay in the forest. Still, more still than any living creature. Watching the sun rise. And I remember once my mother turning away from me in great anger. Or perhaps it was grief. Because for all she had given me, for all her love, I failed to show gratitude. And I made no sign of understanding. For which I was never forgiven. LUTE SONG No one wants to be the muse; in the end, everyone wants to be Orpheus. Valiantly reconstructed (out of terror and pain) and then overwhelmingly beautiful; restoring, ultimately, not Eurydice, the lamented one, but the ardent spirit of Orpheus, made present not as a human being, rather as pure soul rendered detached, immortal, through deflected narcissism. I made a harp of disaster to perpetuate the beauty of my last love. Yet my anguish, such as it is, remains the struggle for form and my dreams, if I speak openly, less the wish to be remembered than the wish to survive, which is, I believe, the deepest human wish. Copyright © 1999 Louise Glück. All rights reserved.