Vita Nova

Right now I’m working on a new novel about a food writer and a poet. So I’m going to post about poetry a lot as well. I was just unpacking my books—my husband, daughter and I moved from Brooklyn, New York to Austin, Texas a few weeks ago—and as I unpacked Vita Nova by Louise Gluck, I had to curl up in a chair and re-read it. I heard Louise Gluck read from this book ten years ago, just a week after my father died, as I was simultaneously breaking up with a boyfriend, and as she read each poem every line seemed steeped in grief. But a beautiful kind of grief, if that’s possible…a sort of ancient and unavoidable and inevitable grief. It was a magical reading for me, the poems and her quiet, strong voice, the reverent silence of the audience, and my own bottomless heartache—so numb and new and unfathomable that it wasn’t yet real—and when she read the poem “Orfeo” I found myself crying. There’s a line at the end of the poem: “There is no music like this without real grief”, and that line kept repeating in my head in those months after I lost my father. Here’s how “Orfeo” begins:

I have lost my Eurydice,
I have lost my lover,
and suddenly I am speaking French
and it seems to me I have never been in better voice;
it seems these songs
are songs of a high order.

And it seems one is somehow expected to apologize
for being an artist,
as though it were not entirely human to notice these fine points.

The entire poem can be read here.

Vita Nova is the last poem in the book, and these are the last lines of it, which I also repeated to myself often in those months after my father died:

Life is very weird, no matter how it ends,
very filled with dreams. Never
will I forget your face, your frantic human eyes
swollen with tears.
I thought my life was over and my heart was broken.
Then I moved to Cambridge.

Read “Vita Nova” here.

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