Fatigue

by Louise Gluck

All winter he sleeps.
Then he gets up, he shaves –
it takes a long time to become a man again
his face in the mirror bristles with dark hair.

The earth now is like a woman, waiting for him.
A great hopefulness – that’s what binds them together,
himself and this woman.

Now he has to work all day to prove he deserves what he has.
Midday: he’s tired, he’s thirsty.
But if he quits now he’ll have nothing.

The sweat covering his back and arms
is like his life pouring out of him
with nothing replacing it.

He works like an animal, then
like a machine, with no feeling.
But the bond will never break
though the earth fights back now, wild in the summer heat –

He squats down, letting the dirt run through his fingers.

The sun goes down, the dark comes.
Now that summer’s over, the earth is hard, cold;
by the road, a few isolated fires burn.

Nothing remains of love,
only estrangement and hatred.

Notes on the Poem

How does a poem's title set the reader's expectations? You know you have them - although each reader's might vary - when you proceed to the first line of a poem entitled "Fatigue". From there, let's see where Louise Glück takes us. In our Poem of the Week ponderings, we've paused here and there to focus on and consider poems' titles, such as "In-Flight Movie" by Karen Solie, "Ponds, In Love" by CD Wright and "Solitude" by Louise Glück, another selection from the collection A Village Life from which "Fatigue" also comes. Taking this title at face value, let's assume the poem is going to explore weariness and its causes, perhaps also scrutinizing someone suffering from it. Indeed, as "All winter he sleeps" suggests, someone is emerging groggily from a form of hibernation. Another admirer of this poem does an excellent job of examining how this person is possibly recovering from some kind of trauma and is now coming back to life, and his actions are compared to those of an animal (as Glück does explicitly). However, the pointed brevity of the final lines actually don't sound weary at all: Nothing remains of love, only estrangement and hatred. The lines convey anger, yes. Fatigue? Not at all. Especially as "a few isolated fires burn" the subject of this poem sounds energized, if viciously so. The old adage to "let sleeping dogs lie" is wisely applied to hibernating creatures, and seems to be pertinent here. With respect to this poem's title, then, what is more satisfying - when the poet affirms and deepens what the title suggests, or subverts the title and upends the reader's expectations?

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