Shelf Life
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Shelf Life: The Seven Ages by Louise Glück

The Seven Ages must be read in short, consistent periods – over the course of a day, over the course of a week. Poems must be read and reread, sometimes immediately, sometimes after stepping away for a while.

Short Verdict: I have mixed feelings about the consistency of the collection, as some poems don’t seem to belong to the set. But in the poems that make up the core of The Seven Ages, I feel stirred by interesting language, sensitive and thoughtful observation, and Glück’s meditative approach to looking forward to death impending while looking back at life past.

There was
a peach in a wicker basket.
There was a bowl of fruit.
Fifty years. Such a long walk
from the door to the table.”
– from “Ripe Peach”

Poetry is always a little more difficult for me to review. I have to sit with everything longer, parse my thoughts out more rigorously, and often when going back to revisit things, find myself changing my opinion. Maybe because reading poetry is so experiential, and so much of the connection to text is bodied and emotional as well as intellectual.

My favourite section from The Seven Ages is actually the short cluster of poems near the middle where the speaker speaks of her sister. Poems like “Study Of My Sister” and “Rain in Summer” take an intimate and hyper-aware look at childhood, at sibling-hood, and the tension of growing up. I love this attention to detail—as someone who has two sisters herself—and feel the deep sensitivity of Glück’s observations: how the whole world can be comprised of just you and them, how they are dangerously but deliciously close, how you do understand time passing early because you see them grow.

Individual poems that really stayed with me included “Stars”, “The Traveler” and “Unpainted Door”. Something like nostalgia, or the kind of insight you can only cultivate in retrospect, with years between you and the object of your attention, really saturate these poems. However, I feel like these poems also walk a fine line between being too obvious and transparent:

“In fact, what I needed most was longing, which you seem
to have achieved in stasis,
but which I found in change, in departure.”
– from “The Traveler”

Perhaps because my reading lists include a lot of Chinese poetry, and English translations of Chinese poetry, I don’t mind these types of lines which sound almost platitude-y. It’s a fine balance though, and I know some people who would respond negatively to this type of poetic speaker.

This poetry collection seems to sit above my current age, reaching for an older, more mature reader. I’m guessing that in ten years, I might appreciate the collection in a way I don’t right now. It is clear that Glück is thinking about age, about time passing, and about death. But she does not seem to be too interested in the dramatic sense of something ending, rather, these poems open up the years in between the young and passionate, and a yet unknown future.

Age and time passing bring something like weight to the speaker of these poems, but also a mellowed contemplation. There is less need to reinvent language or paint deeply sensual images. Instead there is the voice that observes with some steel, with some inevitability, some habit, and a weathered strength:

“And the day —
the unsatisfying morning that says
I am your future,
here is your cargo of sorrow:

Do you reject me? Do you mean
to send me away because I am not
full, in your word,
because you see
the black shape already implicit?
– from “Stars”

Glück is a welcome addition to my shelf of writers. There were many moments in The Seven Ages when I found my breath catching, where I had to stop and let it settle before going through it again. There are collections that remind you of who you were, collections that hold up a mirror to who you are, and then collections that prompt you to imagine the possible shapes you will morph into. As I read Louise Glück, I wonder about the journey my own voice will go on, and what kind of words I will speak when I have moved long past from where I am now.

This entry was posted in: Shelf Life


jaziimun is an interdisciplinary artist who works in text, paper arts and tea. She is also an arts programmer, and a ceramic hobbyist. She is also a proud bun mom.

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