Vespers by Louise Glück
Louise Glück’s Faithful and Virtuous Night, is a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry. Glück is a writer in residence at Yale.
Her Vespers is a garden poem that brought to mind my failures in that area this year. My garden partners and I were hoping for giant sunflowers again, but the rabbits ate every plant, even the plants started late in the year within a fortified fence. Oh well.
The poet might not call this a religious poem but to me it is an example of what might happen to a Christian idea when it wanders outside on a weekday evening. The poem presents like a prayer of lament–with a spiritual consciousness of stewardship of the earth–in a very attractive package. Humility, gentle irony, playfulness, quiet observation, all these are superior to the usual ways our religion is sold and marketed, that is through loud clamor and boasting of one kind and another, literal misreading of sacred texts, self-righteousness and judgmentalism, doctrinaire teaching and trumped up enthusiasm. Here’s momentary relief from all that.
In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.