A Village Life, by Louise Glück
As is often the case with the books by this poet, what does the title mean? It does not seem as if the poems in this book are all told from the point of view of the same person, although it does seem possible that these are all scenes from the same village, of people who are strangers to each other, strangers perhaps even to themselves, haunted by memory, by past experiences, by present character flaws and their circumstances and all that entails. While it is perhaps significant that the world of this book is portrayed as a village and not as a city, it is not as if this is rural life that is necessarily portrayed either, as people sit in cafes and walk in plazas. Rather, it is a life that enjoys some of the amenities of life spent near others while also being close to creation and in touch with the pastoral side of life. It represents, perhaps, the author’s ideal of a balance between town and country, or perhaps that aspect of reality that exists as close as possible to that ideal, in the hope that we might understand and enjoy the light that is beyond the darkness that we all know so well.
This book is about seventy pages in length or so and consists of various poems that seem to be connected to each other in location and theme. Although there are some poems which look at the cycle of time within the day–there are poems titled twilight, noon, dawn, sunrise, and other poems that reference the night in their titles, and other poems that look at the cycle of time throughout the year like spring, midsummer, or the snows of late fall and early winter, by and large these poems, like the author’s in general, are nocturnal in nature. Many of the poems deal with questions of solitude. We have the poignant and somewhat Nathanish story of a man who is loyal to friends but a rather problematic partner, the story of an unmarried spinster walking alone at night and feeling young again, the story of a boy alone by the window who has been sent to bed too early in his opinion by his parents, as well as cats hunting mice in the dark. The author does not portray life in a sentimental fashion, but rather one that is realistic while still poetic and mysterious, as if these people and other beings appreciating the night are all alone to themselves, unable to communicate across the distance that separates them even if they are in the same village.
And that poignant feeling of the difficulties that separate us from others remains from this work after the poems are done. The poet is certainly a successful one–she has won the Pulitzer Price and other prestigious awards from her work, and she is an insightful poet about human life, animals, and even plants, with a firm appreciation of creation as well as the cyclical nature of time and the patterns of existence that repeat themselves day after day, week after week, year after year. Yet this insight does not appear to have made her happy or brightened her spirits. If she is an empathetic soul whose empathy extends to small children, lonely or dying men and women, and those who feel cast off by society as a whole, and if she clothes her empathy in gorgeous and beautiful poetry as she does, it does not mean that she feels able to communicate across the distance and across the darkness and she seems to find that her longings for communion are not fulfilled. If such a fate is all too common among those with tender hearts and able minds, it is still a fate worth our compassion and concern.