American poet Louise Glück’s acceptance speech after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature has been published. She spoke about poets who inspired her: William Blake and Emily Dickinson, and the way they made her feel seen. “When I was a small child of, I think, about five or six, I staged a competition in my head, a contest to decide the greatest poem in the world. There were two finalists: Blake’s “The Little Black Boy” and Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River.” I paced up and down the second bedroom in my grandmother’s house in Cedarhurst, a village on the south shore of Long Island, reciting, in my head as I preferred, not from my mouth, Blake’s unforgettable poem, and singing, also in my head, the haunting, desolate Foster song. How I came to have read Blake is a mystery,” she said.
“I think there were a few poetry anthologies in my parents’ house among the more common books on politics and history and the many novels. But I associate Blake with my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was not a bookish woman. But there was Blake, The Songs of Innocence and of Experience, and also a tiny book of the songs from Shakespeare’s plays, many of which I memorized. I particularly loved the song from Cymbeline, understanding probably not a word but hearing the tone, the cadences, the ringing imperatives, thrilling to a very timid, fearful child. “And renownèd be thy grave.” I hoped so,” she continued.
The first 2020 laureate has received her Nobel Prize medal and diploma.
2020 Literature Laureate Louise Glück received her #NobelPrize at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Glück received it in her garden on a beautiful winter day.
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) December 7, 2020
Commenting on Blake and the way she drew inspiration from him, the poet continued: “I felt sure that Blake especially was somehow aware of this event, intent on its outcome. I understood he was dead, but I felt he was still alive, since I could hear his voice speaking to me, disguised, but his voice. Speaking, I felt, only to me or especially to me. I felt singled out, privileged; I felt also that it was Blake to whom I aspired to speak, to whom, along with Shakespeare, I was already speaking.”
She then went on to talk about the poems she has been drawn to. “The poems to which I have, all my life, been most ardently drawn are poems of the kind I have described, poems of intimate selection or collusion, poems to which the listener or reader makes an essential contribution, as recipient of a confidence or an outcry, sometimes as co-conspirator. “I’m nobody,” Dickinson says. “Are you nobody, too? / Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell…” Or Eliot: “Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table…” Eliot is not summoning the boyscout troop. He is asking something of the reader. As opposed, say, to Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”: Shakespeare is not comparing me to a summer’s day. I am being allowed to overhear dazzling virtuosity, but the poem does not require my presence.” With this she arrived at Dickinson, whose poems she read “passionately in her teens” Citing Dickinson’s famous poem, “I’m nobody”, she went to say, “Dickinson had chosen me, or recognised me, as I sat there on the sofa. We were an elite, companions in invisibility, a fact known only to us, which each corroborated for the other. In the world, we were nobody.”
She concluded her speech with reference to the day she was announced the winner. “It was a surprise to me on the morning of October 8th to feel the sort of panic I have been describing. The light was too bright. The scale too vast.”
“Those of us who write books presumably wish to reach many. But some poets do not see reaching many in spatial terms, as in the filled auditorium. They see reaching many temporally, sequentially, many over time, into the future, but in some profound way these readers always come singly, one by one. I believe that in awarding me this prize, the Swedish Academy is choosing to honour the intimate, private voice, which public utterance can sometimes augment or extend, but never replace,” she said.
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