Louise Gluck: Poems Characters

Louise Gluck: Poems Character List


The title character of this poem is the beautiful young Shunammite girl who became an attendant to King David in his old age. Her story is told in the Biblical book of Kings, but Gluck changes the perspective from arguably the Old Testament’s most heroic male figure to that of the woman who was essentially a slave whose main job was to lie with slayer of Goliath in his years near death to keep him warm.


The poem “Gretel in Darkness” revisits the classic fairy tale character as a woman forever haunted by the memories of saving her life and that of her brother Hansel by killing the evil witch who imprisoned them. Her haunted memories stand in the contrast to a world—even a brother—which seems to have forgotten the traumatic incident.


Sisyphus is not technically the character in “The Mountain” but the lesson. The poem is a first-person account by an unidentified schoolteacher trying to connect with her students about the myth of Sisyphus. First she tells them that the story is about the joy of work even one doesn’t know what the outcome will be. Sensing their doubt, she suddenly changes course and decides to tell them the truth instead: Sisyphus is in hell and his labor is all about attainment. Ultimately, the teacher and Sisyphus become fused, linked by a labor that seems to have no point.


The ancient mythical goddess here is a character purely in the metaphorical sense. The poem is a symbolic consideration of the cost of beauty. The poem situates a young wife hardening as she ages with Aphrodite an image projected by the man who comes to her bed. The poem concludes with imagery of an armless statue, her rocky thighs shut off to men; Aphrodite as metaphorical lighthouse.

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