“Fatigue” by Louise Glück

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.

Out of all of the poems we read this week by Louise Glück and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin in the 2010 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology, my favorite one was “Fatigue” for a few reasons, but mostly because I like the way Glück blurs the line between humanity and the animal kingdom in the opening stanza of her poem. In the first line, Glück tricks her reader into thinking that she is just writing about an animal who spent the season in polar hibernation, but by the second line it becomes clear that she is actually describing a man who “shaves” in the morning, and is doing his best to reenter society, or “become a man again.” From this, the reader perhaps assumes that the man has psychologically gone into a state of hibernation–possibly in order to recover from some trauma in his past–and is now finally coming back to life, so to speak. Glück slyly points out the animalistic quality of his hibernation by symbolizing his sleeping state through the “bristles” of “dark hair” that could either describe his bearded face or the slick fur of a rodent. Glück also levels the hierarchy between animals and humans by employing a sense of time here that could really apply to either. Glück compares a night of sleep for the human to a season of hibernation for the animal and, while it really only requires a couple of minutes to shave, she indicates that for this man grooming himself and getting back on his feet again “takes a long time.” Overall, I think this is a pretty good poem, pointing out the similarities and connections between worlds and life-forms that are perhaps too often polarized.


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