First divesting ourselves of worldly goods, as St. Francis teaches,
in order that our souls not be distracted
by gain and loss, and in order also
that our bodies be free to move
easily at the mountain passes, we had then to discuss
whither or where we might travel, with the second question being
should we have a purpose, against which
many of us argued fiercely that such purpose
corresponded to worldly goods, meaning a limitation or constriction,
whereas others said it was by this word we were consecrated
pilgrims rather than wanderers:
– From “Parable,” p. 6 iPad iBooks e-edition
There is a silencing quality to night that dims the day’s bright nights and muffles its outlandish roars. The night is for lovers, or for the inconsolable, or those feverish saints and melancholy sinners. It is where we lose ourselves and find ourselves again. In Louise Glück’s newest collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, all of these nocturnal attributes and more are explored in wry, sometimes detached, poems that combine to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
In the opening poem, “Parable,” the narrator muses on the Franciscan call to “divest[ing] ourselves of worldly goods.” As we meditate on this, she goes on, the “word” becomes “translated as a dream,” something desired and yet not quite obtainable, while through it all, the weather shifts, with snow (and its blanketing quality) and rain (with its purifying quality) washes over these erstwhile pilgrims, changing them, making for them a purpose they had sought after, albeit one they had not expected.
This mingling of the natural and the mental, of image and desire, continues in the next poem, an adventure, where the night takes on yet another quality, that of passions and of death:
I was, you will understand, entering the kingdom of death,
thought why this landscape was so conventional
I could not say.
– from “An Adventure,” (p. 7)
The visions of this poem, with flesh evaporating into mist, of objects fading into insubstantial shadows, are haunting, yet here, like in other poems in Faithful and Virtuous Night, it is a sense of things lurking on the edges of our personal horizons rather than anything that can be perceived directly. Silence lies at the heart of Glück’s poems, and at the end of the eponymous “Faithful and Virtuous Night,” she lays out one of the principal themes of this collection:
I think here I will leave you. It has come to seem
there is no perfect ending.
Indeed, there are infinite endings.
Or perhaps, once one begins,
there are only endings. (p. 16)
This theme of indefinite, perhaps infinite, endings to stories is played out over and over again in various iterations. In one, it is likened to a religious ceremony in which the congregation’s standing about waiting is the entire point of the ceremony, that beholding is the key, not any of the ancillary activities surrounding this. In another, through the guise of a writer whose many lauded novels were much alike each other, the complacency that surrounds disguised suffering is the key to understanding the reflection of nature in art, of suffering encapsulated in formalized artifice. And so it goes until this chilling question is raised in “The Story of a Day”:
But if the essence of time is change,
how can anything become nothing?
This was the question I asked myself. (p. 54)
The overall effect of these images, carefully embedded throughout the collection, is to create a sense of space, where answers die and contemplation of inscrutable life begins. Night is the perfect metaphor for this and Faithful and Virtuous Night shows Glück in full mastery of image and metaphor. It certainly is a poetry well worth reading for any who have any love at all for the poetic genre.