Faithful And Virtuous Night, by Louise Glück
There are some poets who are associated with different times of day. The late great poet William Stafford, for example, was a poet who woke up early in the morning to have private time to write, a habit he kept up for decades, and he is definitely an early morning poet. Other people do their writings at night, when the children are put to sleep and the cares of work are done and there is time to write if one is willing to cut into one’s sleep cycle a bit on that side. However it is that someone decides they are going to fit writing into their lives, there are some major choices that have to be made, as time spent writing is time spent not doing other things like eating or sleeping or communicating. In this particular case, it would appear as if the writer is (like me) a night writer rather than a morning writer, because this book has the strong feeling of being a series of nocturnes that, as usual, present the reader with some major interpretive challenges, not least of which is the teasing hints by the interior dust jacket that these poems all take place in the same place even if the circumstances are different each time.
There are a lot of different elements here for the reader to consider. Do we choose to look at the depressed secretary to a dying writer? What about the person having a difficult time with psychoanalysis? Do we ponder on the titular kid reflecting on her fighting with a brother about space on the bed? What about the strange concern with place, be it a city sinking into the water or the countryside of Cornwall? The liner notes try to present this book as being a series of different impressions of the same place, with identity fluid, but that’s not the feeling I get. I get a poet reflecting on various lives, or at least different vignettes within those lives, most of which relate to each other as being related to the night and to its difficulties. The title of the book may refer to a virtuous and faithful night, but not all of the people in this book appear to be comforted. Instead, as is common, the characters struggle (for whatever reason) with their mental health, often feeling an intense depression.
Perhaps I am predisposed to appreciate poems like this. Being a person who likes to write poetry myself from various perspectives, and someone who has long struggled with mental health including major depression, there is a lot here that I can relate to here. I’m not sure if this is the sort of poet that can be easily related to by others, but if you have an interest in history, mental health, and the issues of the night, this book has a lot to offer. It seems likely that the poet is being ironic in her choice of a title, and that she intends the reader to recognize the struggle with faith and memory and even nightmares that often takes place in the darkness for people. This sort of approach leads the reader to ponder about the etiology of such problems with the night. What is it that led the poet to be such a noted poet of the darkness, and what led her to have such problems with the darkness? Are there specific reasons why it is that the poet would think the night was not so virtuous or faithful? I could guess, but it would be impolite. As it is, this is an excellent book of thoughtful and reflective poems, as usual for the poet apparently.