Diary of a Poet

The Paradox of “Daisies” by Louise Glück

When I first encountered Louise Glück’s poetry, I was trying very hard to make a garden out of an overgrown and neglected patch of forest behind my house. Redwoods shaded the area for most of the year, and when the sun finally rose high enough to shine over the trees in summer, its heat dried the soil to a fine powder. It took me years to understand how this piece of forest functioned, and that my efforts were not only futile, but harmful.

During this time in my life, I found Glück’s poem “Daisies” in Writing Poems, a poetry-writing textbook by Robert Wallace and Michelle Boisseau. When I read the first lines, “Go ahead: say what you’re thinking. The garden / is not the real world. Machines / are the real world,” I felt as if I’d received advice from a wise, acerbic and difficult friend, one whose presence I could tolerate only once or twice a year—not because we didn’t get along but because spending time with her affected me so profoundly that I needed a long time to recover. 

I didn’t immediately understand that Glück wrote the poem in the voice of the daisies and not the voice of their human caretaker, even after reading the lines “It is very touching, / all the same, to see you cautiously / approaching the meadow’s border in early morning.” I initially thought that the poem was a conversation between two humans in the presence of the flowers. After reading it several more times, it finally dawned on me that Glück wrote the poem from the daisies’ point of view. 

In Glück’s essay “Against Sincerity,” she writes: “The artist’s task, then, involves the transformation of the actual to the true. And the ability to achieve such transformations, especially in art that presumes to be subjective, depends on conscious willingness to distinguish truth from honesty or sincerity.” In this passage, Glück basically describes the paradox of “Daisies:” the flowers speak, which as far as we know they cannot do, but nevertheless, they tell the truth:

No one wants to hear / impressions of the natural world: you will be / laughed at again; scorn will be piled on you.

Later in “Against Sincerity,” Glück writes, “the artist, surveying the actual, constantly intervenes and manages, lies and deletes, all in the service of truth.”

I finally gave up on trying to create a garden out of the area behind my house. To paraphrase the line from “Daisies,” I had been making an “impression of the natural world” that no one wanted—a garden in a place completely hostile to my idea of what a garden should be. 

I should have listened to the flowers.

Louise Glück received the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 8, 2020.

Categories: Diary of a Poet

3 replies »

  1. Erica, I liked your comments about Gluck and her “acerbic” poetry. Though certain poets complained about her winning the prize, thinking more “experimental” women poets deserved it, she’s a truly important contemporary poet. She even influenced me, who is more of a sit-down comedian than a poet. Thanks. JC

  2. I only recently started reading her – Averno – and found her difficult, although this claim says more about my reading scope than of her writing. She is difficult in the sense that she is not consoling, but no one expects her to be. She is a highly original voice and reminds me of Simone Weil’s Art is not consolation, it is light. Very few poets are not apologetic about the fact that they are poets and that their poet is not an imposition, it is something you can take or leave, because if you do take it, it could transform you into who you deeply and profoundly are. There will always be backlash to poets especially when they win major prize. Remember what a witch hunt was ignited on Anne Carson when she wrote The Beauty of the Husband. On the one hand, we want art to be new, but on the other hand, if it is new, is it art, since it does not resemble previous art? It is the risk every poet must take; besides, a poet is always writing to an audience in the future, even if some of that audience, is in the present

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