Vita Nova

Overview

Since, 1990, Louise Glück 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 ...

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Overview

Since, 1990, Louise Glück 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, Glück 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.

1999 National Book Award nominee for Poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

Bookforum
The book exists at the vanishing point of light. What's left is not darkness, but the amniotic of soul, and hence the title, Vita Nova, new life.
Library Journal
Glück'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)--one 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 ironic--Mommy wouldn't do/ the rhumba in the driveway." Gl&#252ck'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, Glück's exquisitely crafted work continues to astound. For all poetry collections.--Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York
People Magazine
...Gluck explores that terrible interval between the loss of a love and the stirrings of new life and new emotions...
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060957957
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 984,544
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Glück won the Pulitzer Prize for The Wild Iris in 1993. The author of eight books of poetry and one collection of essays, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry, she has received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the William Carlos Williams Award, and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction. She was named the next U.S. poet laureate in August 2003. Her most recent book is The Seven Ages. Louise Glück teaches at Williams College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

Vita Nova 1
Aubade 3
The Queen of Carthage 5
The Open Grave 6
Unwritten Law 7
The Burning Heart 8
Roman Study 10
The New Life 12
Formaggio 13
Timor Mortis 15
Lute Song 17
Orfeo 18
Descent to the Valley 19
The Garment 20
Condo 21
Immortal Love 23
Earthly Love 24
Eurydice 26
Castile 27
Mutable Earth 29
The Winged Horse 31
Earthly Terror 32
The Golden Bough 33
Evening Prayers 34
Relic 36
Nest 37
Ellsworth Avenue 40
Inferno 42
Seizure 44
The Mystery 46
Lament 48
Vita Nova 50
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First Chapter

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.
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