Mock Orange by Louise Glück



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

Related Post Roulette

19 Responses

  1. Avatar Maribou says:

    On reflection, and thinking about some of the Greek poetry you love, I shouldn’t have been surprised. (Especially since we had that whole conversation starting with “what?? YOU like HER???” about 16 years ago or more… we’ve gotten old enough to re-surprise each other, I guess.)Report

  2. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I love the “Do you see?” right before it. Is she talking to me the reader or the lover? Were we all made fools of? Definitely a great poem.

    I also love the shirt, by the way! Looks like a Nudie Cohn suit. Graham Parsons would have dug it!Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      My embroidered shirts from high school shrunk in the wash.

      I’ve since discovered that the cowboy store has picked up where the hippie store has left off.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    I read the poem so terribly different from you.
    You take it as a consensual union — I do not.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      The climax, so to speak, of that poem, is spectacular. I can’t think of a better description of a failed or failing relationship:

      I hear the question and pursuing answer
      fused in one sound
      that mounts and mounts and then
      is split into the old selves,
      the tired antagonisms.

      (Have you heard Natalie Prass’ album? In one song she repeats the line, “Our love is a long goodbye” over and over, and it’s pretty much the same thing).

      I think I may have mentioned that for several years my youngest brother was with, ultimately engaged to, a poet who is somewhat well known now among academic poets apparently. As a result, he had/has a lot of friends who are poets (including one who lives here now, one seriously odd duck). As a further result, I have had to read a lot of awful contemporary poetry, with the only lessons I’ve learned being that (1) poets are miserable people who hate each other with a petty, insecure passion and (2) they only write for each other. I’m pretty sure these two facts combine to make much of contemporary poetry acts of passive aggression, and that’s why it’s so unreadable. (I say this 2/3 jokingly, but only 2/3.)

      I don’t know when the “poets only write for other poets” thing began, but if it was in full force in Glück’s time, she managed to transcend it.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Ugh, not meant as a reply to Kim, who clearly hasn’t read the poem.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Kim, whenever I’ve seen this poem discussed, it’s about alienation rather than a rape that takes place in the marital bed.

      Chris, below, mentions a few of the lines (“split into the old selves” “tired antagonisms”) that imply that it’s mutual but I also look at these:

      and the cry that always escapes,
      the low, humiliating
      premise of union

      She’s dissociated from this, yes… but the dissociation isn’t due to violence.

      Here’s Poetry Fix’s take. Both of these people know Gluck personally.

      I’m not saying your take is wrong, mind… just that I’ve never seen that take on it before now and I’ve spent a lot of time with this poem.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Interesting. Karr mentions rape in a mostly metaphorical sense in that discussion: it’s sex that she (and perhaps they) don’t really want to have, because it’s an imitation of union that quickly dissolves into the actual disunion.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        yeah, that’s a better take on the entire imagery, I must agree.
        Sex itself is reductionist, paring humans down to their bare bestial essentials.
        I find the act non-consensual, but perhaps it is so for both parties.

        Needs and urges forcing a false sense of unity, that breaks as the moment of clarity dissolves.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        alienation is an awesome word for this, but i see just as much alienation from her own body/desires as from her lover.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Needs and urges forcing a false sense of unity, that breaks as the moment of clarity dissolves.

        Yeah, exactly.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        One of the things that a fail(ing)ed relationship does to you is make you feel fractured: so much of you knows that it is over, but fear and frustration and a sense of investment make it difficult to listen to that part of yourself, so you stick with it well past the expiration date.

        I actually remember a moment very much like that described in the poem, many many years ago. We were lying together, me on my back, her on her side, and the only thing we had in common is that we knew it was over but were lying their anyway. She turned around, took my arm, put it around her, and in that moment the thin veil of pretended ignorance on both are part was ripped in two, and we both knew what we’d known for a while: not only was it over, but this was also painfully clear to both of us. It was quite painful, painful enough that it’s a moment I’ll likely never forget, which is probably why I like this poem so much.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Sex itself is reductionist, paring humans down to their bare bestial essentials.

        It is if you’re doing it right. 😉

        That said, and I don’t say this often, but now that she’s clarified a bit, I can see a little where Kim is coming from, if you bring in that concept of us being helpless slaves to our biology and natures, and the pain that causes us.

        In this life like weeds, eyes need us to see
        Hearts need us to bleed

        And you think you feel most everything
        And we know that our hearts are just made out of strings
        To be pulled, strings to be pulled
        So you think you’ve figured out everything
        But we know that our minds are just made out of strings
        To be pulled, strings to be pulled
        All this talkin’ all the time and the air fills up, up, up
        Until there’s nothing left to breathe
        Up until there’s nothin’ left to speak.

        “Life Like Weeds”, Modest Mouse


  4. Avatar Citizen says:

    Is orange used in the same manner as in clockwork orange? If so, I am inclined to take a similar view as Kim.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      No, mock orange is a real (group of) bushes and trees that produce pretty, nice smelling flowers that look like orange blossoms but don’t produce fruit, or produce something inedible (e.g., osage orange trees). The idea is that it looks and smells like an orange blossom but it bears no fruit.Report

      • Avatar Citizen says:

        There are alot of words that counter love or even frustration:
        hate, paralyzing, humiliating, antagonisms

        Maybe its a display of how close love and hate are woven, but this feels darker to me, and I feel the inclusion of orange not to be of incident to a poet.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Oh, I’m sure it’s not. Glück’s whole philosophy of poetry is to use only the words absolutely necessary, so that her words always have meaning, and usually more than one.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Whenever I’ve seen this poem discussed, I’ve never seen that comparison made.

      I always have seen it referring to this particular flower:

      (There’s a link to a picture of it at the bottom of the post.)

      It’s a bush that makes a ton of fragrant blossoms that are almost sickly sweet. Some people love the smell. Some people hate it.Report