Averno

by Louise Gluck

Averno

Hardcover, 79 pages, Farrar Straus & Giroux, List Price: $22 | purchase

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Book Summary

Offers a collection of works by the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning writer, taking her inspiration from a small crater lake in southern Italy which functions as a doorway between worlds.

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Excerpt: Averno

Averno

AVERNO


FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX

Copyright © 2006 Louise Glück
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-374-10742-4

Contents

THE NIGHT MIGRATIONS........................1IOCTOBER.....................................5PERSEPHONE THE WANDERER.....................16PRISM.......................................20CRATER LAKE.................................28ECHOES......................................29FUGUE.......................................31IITHE EVENING STAR............................39LANDSCAPE...................................40A MYTH OF INNOCENCE.........................50ARCHAIC FRAGMENT............................52BLUE ROTUNDA................................53A MYTH OF DEVOTION..........................58AVERNO......................................60OMENS.......................................70TELESCOPE...................................71THRUSH......................................72PERSEPHONE THE WANDERER.....................73Notes.......................................79

Chapter One

OCTOBER 1. Is it winter again, is it cold again, didn't Frank `just slip on the ice, didn't he heal, weren't the spring seeds planted didn't the night end, didn't the melting ice flood the narrow gutters wasn't my body rescued, wasn't it safe didn't the scar form, invisible above the injury terror and cold, didn't they just end, wasn't the back garden harrowed and planted- I remember how the earth felt, red and dense, in stiff rows, weren't the seeds planted, didn't vines climb the south wall I can't hear your voice for the wind's cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care what sound it makes when was I silenced, when did it first seem pointless to describe that sound what it sounds like can't change what it is- didn't the night end, wasn't the earth safe when it was planted didn't we plant the seeds, weren't we necessary to the earth, the vines, were they harvested?

2. Summer after summer has ended, balm after violence: it does me no good to be good to me now; violence has changed me. Daybreak. The low hills shine ochre and fire, even the fields shine. I know what I see; sun that could be the August sun, returning everything that was taken away- You hear this voice? This is my mind's voice; you can't touch my body now. It has changed once, it has hardened, don't ask it to respond again.

A day like a day in summer. Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples nearly mauve on the gravel paths. And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer. It does me no good; violence has changed me. My body has grown cold like the stripped fields; now there is only my mind, cautious and wary, with the sense it is being tested. Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer; bounty, balm after violence. Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields have been harvested and turned. Tell me this is the future, I won't believe you. Tell me I'm living, I won't believe you.

3.

Snow had fallen. I remember music from an open window. Come to me, said the world. This is not to say it spoke in exact sentences but that I perceived beauty in this manner. Sunrise. A film of moisture on each living thing. Pools of cold light formed in the gutters. I stood at the doorway, ridiculous as it now seems. What others found in art, I found in nature. What others found in human love, I found in nature. Very simple. But there was no voice there. Winter was over. In the thawed dirt, bits of green were showing. Come to me, said the world. I was standing in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal- I can finally say long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty the healer, the teacher- death cannot harm me more than you have harmed me, my beloved life.

4. The light has changed; middle C is tuned darker now. And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed. This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring. The light of autumn: you will not be spared.

The songs have changed; the unspeakable has entered them. This is the light of autumn, not the light that says I am reborn. Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered. This is the present, an allegory of waste. So much has changed. And still, you are fortunate: the ideal burns in you like a fever. Or not like a fever, like a second heart. The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful. They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind. They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish. And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly in anticipation of silence. The ear gets used to them. The eye gets used to disappearances. You will not be spared, nor will what you lope be spared. A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind; it has left in its wake a strange lucidity. How privileged you are, to be still passionately clinging to what you love; the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you. Maestoso, doloroso: This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us. Surely it is a privilege to approach the end still believing in something.

5. It is true there is not enough beauty in the world. It is also true that I am not competent to restore it. Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am at work, though I am silent. The bland misery of the world bounds us on either side, an alley lined with trees; we are companions here, not speaking, each with his own thoughts; behind the trees, iron gates of the private houses, the shuttered rooms somehow deserted, abandoned, as though it were the artist's duty to create hope, but out of what? what? the word itself false, a device to refute perception-At the intersection, ornamental lights of the season. I was young here. Riding the subway with my small book as though to defend myself against this same world: you are not alone, the poem said, in the dark tunnel.

6. The brightness of the day becomes the brightness of the night; the fire becomes the mirror. My friend the earth is bitter; I think sunlight has failed her. Bitter or weary, it is hard to say. Between herself and the sun, something has ended. She wants, now, to be left alone; I think we must give up turning to her for affirmation. Above the fields, above the roofs of the village houses, the brilliance that made all life possible becomes the cold stars. Lie still and watch: they give nothing but ask nothing. From within the earth's bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness my friend the moon rises: she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

PERSEPHONE THE WANDERER In the first version, Persephone is taken from her mother and the goddess of the earth punishes the earth-this is consistent with what we know of human behavior, that human beings take profound satisfaction in doing harm, particularly unconcious harm: we may call this negative creation. Persephone's initial sojourn in hell continues to be pawed over by scholars who dispute the sensations of the virgin: did she cooperate in her rape, or was she drugged, violated against her will, as happens so often now to modern girls. As is well known, the return of the beloved does not correct the loss of the beloved: Persephone returns home stained with red juice like a character in Hawthorne- I am not certain I will keep this word: is earth "home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably, in the bed of the god? Is she at home nowhere? Is she a born wanderer, in other words an existential replica of her own mother, less hamstrung by ideas of causality? You are allowed to like no one, you know. The characters are not people. They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict. Three parts: just as the soul is divided, ego, superego, id. Likewise the three levee of the known world, a kind of diagram that separates heaven from earth from hell. You must ask yourself: where is it snowing? White of forgetfulness, of desecration- It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says Persephone is having sex in hell. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know what winter is, only that she is what causes it. She is lying in the bed of Hades. What is in her mind? Is she afraid? Has something blotted out the idea of mind? She does know the earth is run by mothers, this much is certain. She also knows she is not what is called a girl any longer. Regarding incarceration, she believes she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter. The terrible reunions in store for her will take up the rest of her life. When the passion for expiation is chronic, fierce, you do not choose the way you live. You do not live; you are not allowed to die. You drift between earth and death which seem, finally, strangely alike. Scholars tell us that there is no point in knowing what you want when the forces contending over you could kill you. White of forgetfulness, white of safety- They say there is a rift in the human soul which was not constructed to belong entirely to life. Earth asks us to deny this rift, a threat disguised as suggestion- as we have seen in the tale of Persephone which should be read as an argument between the mother and the lover- the daughter is just meat. When death confronts her, she has never seen the meadow without the daisies. Suddenly she is no longer singing her maidenly songs about her mother's beauty and fecundity. Where the rift is, the break is. Song of the earth, song of the mythic vision of eternal life- My soul shattered with the strain of trying to belong to earth- What will you do, when it is your turn in the field with the god?

PRISM 1. Who can say what the world is? The world is in flux, therefore unreadable, the winds shifting, the great plates invisibly shifting and changing-

2. Dirt. Fragments of blistered rock. On which the exposed heart constructs a house, memory: the gardens manageable, small in scale, the beds damp at the sea's edge- 3. As one takes in an enemy, through these windows one takes in the world: here is the kitchen, here the darkened study.

Meaning: I am master here.

4. When you fall in love, my sister said, it's like being struck by lightning. She was speaking hopefully, to draw the attention of the lightning. I reminded her that she was repeating exactly our mother's formula, which she and I had discussed in childhood, because we both felt that what we were looking at in the adults were the effects not of lightning but of the electric chair. 5. Riddle: Why was my mother happy? Answer: She married my father. 6. "You girls," my mother said, "should marry someone like your father." That was one remark. Another was, "There is no one like your father."

7. From the pierced clouds, steady lines of silver. Unlikely yellow of the witch hazel, veins of mercury that were the paths of the rivers- Then the rain again, erasing footprints in the damp earth. An implied path, like a map without a crossroads. 8. The implication was, it was necessary to abandon childhood. The word "marry" was a signal. You could also treat it as aesthetic advice; the voice of the child was tiresome, it had no lower register. The word was a code, mysterious, like the Rosetta stone. It was also a roadsign, a warning. You could take a few things with you like a dowry. You could take the part of you that thought. "Marry" meant you should keep that part quiet. 9. A night in summer. Outside, sounds of a summer storm. Then the sky clearing. In the window, constellations of summer. I'm in a bed. This man and I, we are suspended in the strange calm sex often induces. Most sex induces. Longing, what is that? Desire, what is that? In the window, constellations of summer. Once, I could name them. 10. Abstracted shapes, patterns. The light of the mind. The cold, exacting fires of disinterestedness, curiously blocked by earth, coherent, glittering in air and water, the elaborate signs that said now plant, now, harvest- I could name them, I had names for them: two different things.

11. Fabulous things, stars. When I was a child, I suffered from insomnia. Summer nights, my parents permitted me to sit by the lake; I took the dog for company. Did I say "suffered"? That was my parents' way of explaining tastes that seemed to them inexplicable: better "suffered" than "preferred to live with the dog." Darkness. Silence that annulled mortality. The tethered boats rising and falling. When the moon was full, I could sometimes read the girls' names painted to the sides of the boats: Ruth Ann, Sweet Izzy, Peggy My Darling- They were going nowhere, those girls. There was nothing to be learned from them. I spread my jacket in the damp sand, the dog curled up beside me. My parents couldn't see the lift: in my head; when I wrote it down, they fixed the spelling. Sounds of the lake. The soothing, inhuman sounds of water lapping the dock, the dog scuffling somewhere in the weeds-

12. The assignment was to fall in love. The details were up to you. The second part was to include in the poem certain words, words drawn from a specific text on another subject altogether.

13. Spring rain, then a night in summer. A man's voice, then a woman's voice. You grew up, you were struck by lightning. When you opened your eyes, you were wired forever to your true love. It only happened once. Then you were taken care of, your story was finished. It happened once. Being struck was like being vaccinated; the rest of your life you were immune, you were warm and dry. Unless the shock wasn't deep enough. Then you weren't vaccinated, you were addicted.

14. The assignment was to fall in love. The author was female. The ego had to be called the soul. The action took place in the body. Stars represented everything else: dreams, the mind, etc. The beloved was identified with the self in a narcissistic projection. The mind was a subplot. It went nattering on. Time was experienced less as narrative than ritual. What was repeated had weight. Certain endings were tragic, thus acceptable. Everything else was failure. 15. Deceit. Lies. Embellishments we call hypotheses- There were too many roads, too many versions. There were too many roads, no one path- And at the end? 16. List the implications of "crossroads." Answer: a story that will have a moral. Give a counter-example: 17. The self ended and the world began. They were of equal size, commensurate, one mirrored the other.

18. The riddle was: why couldn't we live in the mind. The answer was: the barrier of the earth intervened.

19. The room was quiet. That is, the room was quiet, but the lovers were breathing. In the same way, the night was dark. It was dark, but the stars shone. The man in bed was one of several men to whom I gave my heart. The gift of the self, that is without limit. Without limit, though it recurs. The room was quiet. It was an absolute, like the black night. 20. A night in summer. Sounds of a summer storm. The great plates invisibly shifting and changing- And in the dark room, the lovers sleeping in each other's arms. We are, each of us, the one who wakens first, who stirs first and sees, there in the first dawn, the stranger.

CRATER LAKE There was a war between good and evil. We decided to call the body good. That made death evil. It turned the soul against death completely. Like a foot soldier wanting to serve a great warrior, the soul wanted to side with the body. It turned against the dark, against the forms of death it recognized. Where does the voice come from that says suppose the war is evil, that says suppose the body did this to us, made us afraid of love-

(Continues...)




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