Occasionally a poem is so frictionless it stabs without hurting. My second reading of “Telescope” by Louise Glück was to someone far away over FaceTime. You’ve gotta hear this! I chirped.
There is a moment after you move your eye away / when you forget where you are / because you’ve been living, it seems, /somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.
The speaker describes how you lose yourself in contemplation of the indifferent.
You’ve stopped being here in the world./ You’re in a different place, / a place where human life has no meaning. // You’re not a creature in a body. / You exist as the stars exist, / participating in their stillness, their immensity.
I read the poem slowly to my distant friend. The slowness is counterintuitive, because Glück favors workaday diction in her poems, as opposed to words like “incarnadine”; she has said so in an essay. Her contractions convey casualness. She chisels her lines with scrupulous attention to capitals and punctuation. The marked rests, as in music, let the verses and the reader breathe.
Then you’re in the world again. / At night, on a cold hill, / taking the telescope apart.
Here, suddenly, I wept, taken apart myself. The terrible beauty of simple words about emptiness and distance, the lack of distortion, made unbearable sense. I’ve looked at the sky through a scope on dark nights, haven’t I? — feeling closer to the constellations than to any person.
You realize afterward, / not that the image is false, / but the relation is false. // You see again how far away / each thing is from every other thing.
The ending has a weightless purity that makes you cry. Glück is never sappy, and doesn’t try to be uplifting — thank God! The speaker in “Telescope” trains a gaze cold as interstellar space on glittering delusions of nearness, consigning facile pieties to stardust.
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