Louise Glück (born in New York City in 1943) has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal“.
Here is one of her poems, which has often been likened to a feminist anthem, from the collection “The Triumph of Achilles” (1985).
Mock Orange It is not the moon, I tell you. It is these flowers lighting the yard. I hate them. I hate them as I hate sex, the man’s mouth sealing my mouth, the man’s paralyzing body— and the cry that always escapes, the low, humiliating premise of union— In my mind tonight I hear the question and pursuing answer fused in one sound that mounts and mounts and then is split into the old selves, the tired antagonisms. Do you see? We were made fools of. And the scent of mock orange drifts through the window. How can I rest? How can I be content when there is still that odor in the world?
Mock Orange or Philadelphus Virginal is a deciduous shrub of great beauty when in bloom, whose fragrant, citrus-scented white flowers may resemble orange blossoms.
In this poem these flowers symbolize both inauthenticity, as they mimic orange blossoms without genuinely belonging to the same species, and power, as their “light” is superior to that of the moon because they can create a beautiful luminescence that floods the yard.
These two associations are also linked to the act of sex, always suffocated by the dominant man.
And if her flesh and her feminine desire for companionship interfere with her search for wholeness, she realizes she cannot find it through her submission to a man. Therefore she feels appalled by the bondage of her body to the physical world and, shaking off any resignation, she assesses her wish to resist participating in a masculinized system of sexuality implying domination and objectification.
But the final scent of the flowers is a reminder of her own fate inherent in her femininity and sealed by what a woman is meant to be: gentle, nurturing, submissive. Sex has been an illusion, highlighted by the association to those inedible fruits and alluring flowers.
Fiori d’angelo Non è la luna, credimi, ma sono questi fiori che danno luce al cortile. Li odio. Li odio come odio il sesso, la bocca dell'uomo che mi sigilla la bocca, il suo corpo che mi immobilizza - e il grido che sfugge sempre, bassa, umiliante premessa di unione - Nella mia mente stasera sento la domanda e la risposta che ne segue fuse in un unico suono che monta e monta e poi si divide negli antichi sé, i fiacchi antagonismi. Vedi? Siamo stati presi in giro. E il profumo dei fior d’arancio viene trasportato attraverso la finestra. Come posso riposare? Come posso essere appagata quando c'è ancora quell'odore nel mondo? (L.Z.)