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Epithalamium by Louise Gluck
Posted by: Enlite (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 06, 2007 06:20AM

For the following poem I am supposed to find an instance of alliteration, consonance, and assonance. That's the easy part. But then I have to answer what the effect of these devices have on meaning in this poem.

Here's the poem typed out:


There were others; their bodies
were a preparation.
I have come to see it as that.

As a steam of cries.
So much pain in the world - the formless
grief of the body, whose language
is hunger-

And in the hall, the boxed roses:
what they mean

is chaos. Then begins
the terrible charity of marriage,
husband and wife

climing the green hill in gold light
until there is no hill,
only a flat plain stopped by the sky.

Here is my hand, he said.
But that was long ago.
Here is my hand that will not harm you.

Anyone understand what's happening in this poem and the effect of these device on meaning?

Re: Epithalamium by Louise Gluck
Posted by: Enlite (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 07, 2007 07:00PM


Anyone out there? Desi, Hugh? Does nobody understand the poem?

I can take a wild guess.

"There were others..their bodies...a preparation." These are the spectators or other marraigeable people, or rather women, who are going to suffer the same plight this woman has. She is being abused in her marraige.

Before marraige, these women have this great "hunger" or "formless grief" for love, security, romance and the other wonderful things associated with marraige. This hunger is formless because it's not the tangible hunger for food, shelter, and clothing. Maslow's hierarchy of needs if you will.

The boxed roses are a symbol for the woman feeling trapped in the chaos. She used to be a beautiful flower. She gave "charity" to her husband in taking all his abuse and forgiving him.

The "green hill in golden light" was her dream. But she climbed the dream so many times, trying so hard to make this marraige work, that the hill just flattened.

In the last stanza, we see that the marraige ended. That her husband had lied. He did harm her. Or perhaps she's still in the marraige, suffering.

Epithalamium means a lyric ode in honor of a bride and bridegroom. However, this poem is about a bitter female. She's making a sarcastic poem. I forgot what the proper term for "sarcastic poem" is. Anyone know?

So is my interpretation of this poem way off? What do you all think?

Re: Epithalamium by Louise Gluck
Posted by: Hugh Clary (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 08, 2007 01:44PM

The only thing that comes to mind for sarcastic poem or sarcasm used in poetry is either verbal irony or perhaps satire (such as Alexander Pope used so effectively). Probably not a lampoon or parody, no.

Yes, the speaker is bitter over the failed marriage and the inferred physical abuse by her husband. Still, the question is what effect the devices of sound have on the poem. It was Wallace Stevens, if memory serves, who disliked 'explanations' of poetry and instead insisted the most important things were the words and sounds used. I am not sure I agree with that conclusion, but it certainly applies to the question here.

First of all - is there really a great deal of such sound devices used here? I don't see much in the way of alliteration, although one could argue for consonance and assonance. What about 'hard/long' sounds? Is there an abundance of 'A', 'E' or 'I' noises? Or, are the sounds chosen more of the 'short/soft' sort?

Steam of cries + formless grief + pain
Climbing the green hill in the light = mostly sounds of the hard variety.

Terrible charity of marriage
Here is my hand that will not harm = softer stuff

One could infer the higher-pitched sounds are meant to grate on the ear and the lower/softer ones to soothe us. Why end the attack on the husband with soft sounds at the finish? Could be irony, as you mention.

Re: Epithalamium by Louise Gluck
Posted by: Enlite (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2007 12:59AM

So I was right in my interpretation. I wonder.

I was thinking the word satire but that word is wrong. Verbal irony is right. I looked it up.

The harsher/softer sounds stuff helps me a lot. The harsher sounds pertain to the wife grinding away at the marraige. Then perhaps the softer end pertains to her resignation and sadness at the situation.

Thanks Hugh.

Re: Epithalamium by Louise Gluck
Posted by: MoonBabe (192.168.128.---)
Date: January 09, 2007 01:16AM

I pretty much agree with what Hugh said.

Gluck is a hard poet to read, not one I've been fond of.
Maybe because I don't see her point of views as accurate.
This poem is very harsh.

The part that catches me all up is that about pain and hunger . . .
My own experience disagrees; pain is rarely from hunger or about hunger---
whether she's talking about hunger of the soul or the actual tummy-growling type.

Pain runs much deeper than that and is far more complex.

For me this is a weak poem that talks about very little
except perhaps about her own gripes regarding some man who was cruel.

As for sounds---her language in general is biting,
yes due to hard consonants---maybe they contribute to tone
a bit---but I think it's tone is dictated more by limited subject matter.

My 2 cents . . .


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