Poetry Review: Louise Gluck, Mock Orange

24 Jun

Today we are going to read “Mock Orange” and to start with, the mock orange is a shrub that blooms wildly and bears an inedible fruit that looks like an orange but is inedible–it has a vaguely chemical flavor from what I’ve heard.

“It is not the moon, I tell you./It is these flowers/lighting the yard.”  Louise Gluck starts this poem claiming the flowers and not the moon light up the yard.  The flowers seem a little unnatural even here, the idea that they would light up like some sort of phosphorescent oddity.

“I hate them./I hate them as I hate sex,/the man’s mouth/sealing my mouth , the man’s/paralyzing body–”  So we move from a plant that has inedible fruit to her descriptions of sex, which seam predatory like an insect that stings its mate in the act.  Also it’s interesting that she hates flowers (which are big symbols of reproduction) as she hates the idea of sex as well.

“and the cry that always escapes,/the low, humiliating/premise of union–”  To the speaker sex is an excuse to create shame while pretending to bond.  One reason she hates sex is a cry escapes–as if she does not want it to be heard.  It makes her lose a sense of control.

“In my mind tonight/I hear the question and pursuing answer/fused in one sound/that mounts and mounts, and then/is split into the old selves/the tired antagonisms.”  So they do become one, but when they grow apart they do not get along, the speaker and her partner–going back into antagonism.  That sex is just an illusion.  (Again the symbol of the inedible fruit and hateful flowers really underline this.)

“Do you see?/We were made fools of.”  Meaning the sex doesn’t solve anything, it creates an illusion of bonding as they go back to their fighting corners after the act.

“And the scent of mock orange/drifts through the window.”  She sees the world as taunting her, she has just realized that there is no such thing as true bonding, there’s just distraction.

“How can I rest?/How can I be content/when there is still/that odor in the world?”   The odor, a promise of fruit when there is none, is like her physical attraction.  nothing will come from this in the end.  It’s as if she’s become disillusioned and can’t relax until the promise of union goes away, always tantalizingly out of reach.

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