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Weekly Poem: Setting the Thanksgiving table with a poem by Louise Glück

Back in 2001, technical writer Annik Stahl read her favorite poem, “Lamentations” by Louise Glück, for the NewsHour in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday. You can find the full text of the poem below.

Thanksgiving might not be the first thing you think of when you read Louise Glück’s poem “Lamentations.” But Annik Stahl would disagree.

“Every year since about, I would say, 1989, I write out a copy of this poem and I put it up somewhere near the Thanksgiving table. If it’s at my house or at somebody else’s house … I’ve always brought it with me,” said Stahl.

Stalh is a technical writer who started her career in Seattle and now lives in Denver. Back in 2001, she read “Lamentations” for the NewsHour as part of a series started by former poet laureate Robert Pinksy that asked Americans to read their favorite poems.

It’s also a fitting time to honor Glück, who won a 2014 National Book Award on Nov. 19 for her book of poetry “Faithful and Virtuous Night.”

Lamentations
by Louise Glück

1. The Logos

They were both still,
the woman mournful, the man
branching into her body.

But God was watching.
They felt his gold eye
projecting flowers on the landscape.

Who knew what He wanted?
He was God, and a monster.
So they waited. And the world
filled with His radiance,
as though He wanted to be understood.

Far away, in the void that He had shaped,
he turned to his angels.

2. Nocturne

A forest rose from the earth.
O pitiful, so needing
God’s furious love—

Together they were beasts.
They lay in the fixed
dusk of His negligence;
from the hills, wolves came, mechanically
drawn to their human warmth,
their panic.

Then the angels saw
how He divided them:
the man, the woman, and the woman’s body.

Above the churned reeds, the leaves let go
a slow moan of silver.

3. The Covenant

Out of fear, they built a dwelling place.
But a child grew between them
as they slept, as they tried
to feed themselves.

They set it on a pile of leaves,
the small discarded body
wrapped in the clean skin
of an animal. Against the black sky
they saw the massive argument of light.

Sometimes it woke. As it reached its hands
they understood they were the mother and father,
there was no authority above them.

4. The Clearing

Gradually, over many years,
the fur disappeared from their bodies
until they stood in the bright light
strange to one another.
Nothing was as before.
Their hands trembled, seeking
the familiar.

Nor could they keep their eyes
from the white flesh
on which wounds would show clearly
like words on a page.

And from the meaningless browns and greens
at last God arose, His great shadow
darkening the sleeping bodies of His children,
and leapt into heaven.

How beautiful it must have been,
the earth, that first time
seen from the air.

“Lamentations” from “Descending Figures” by Louise Glück. Courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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