Faithful and Virtuous Night

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Louise Glück is in love with silence — her poems strain towards nothingness. "The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary," she once wrote in an essay. In her new collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, one poem features a painter, aging and facing his own decline, who paints canvases that are "immense and entirely white."

There is something very like the white canvas in Glück's new collection — words, though obviously chosen with extraordinary care, somehow add up to a blankness — the speaker of one poem, looking at his watch, realizes " ... the serene transit of the hour hand / no longer represented my perception of time / which had become a sense of immobility / expressed as movement across great distances." It's so restrained, so carefully empty while still giving the illusion of depth (time, perception, movement, distance!).

When I look at all-white paintings, if I work very hard, I can sometimes summon up the requisite feeling of slack peacefulness or (depending on the weather) dread at my impending mortality. But, in my hoggish heart, I want things — grapes on plates, Biblical beheading scenes, sea nymphs, sallow Jesuses, people eating pastries on boats, naked Dutch women with fat toes — anything but showily restrained blankness.

About the Author

Louise Glück is one of America’s finest contemporary poets. In 2020 Louise Glück has become the first American woman to win the Nobel prize for literature in 27 years, cited for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”. Glück is the 16th woman to win the Nobel, and the first American woman since Toni Morrison took the prize in 1993. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Glück is a former Poet Laureate of the United States and the author of a dozen widely acclaimed books. Stephen Dobyns, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said “no American poet writes better than Louise Glück, perhaps none can lead us so deeply into our own nature.” Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Hass has called her “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing.” Evocative and lyrically graceful, Glück’s work is noted for its emotional intensity and technical precision. Glück’s considerable accomplishments as a poet are apparent in her 2013 collected works, Poems: 1962-2012. She received the 2014 National Book Award for her most recent collection of poems, Faithful and Virtuous Night, and in 2015 received the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her latest book of essays is titled American Originality.