Sunday Poetry: The Red Poppy, by Louise Gluck

The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

– by Louise Gluck

Poppies hold a disproportionate share of the literary imagination. They grow hauntingly among the crosses In Flanders Fields. They put Dorothy and her posse to sleep on her way to the Emerald City. They appear on tombstones and are offered by veterans before Memorial Day.

Louise Gluck offers her own take on the poppy in this poem, but it is enriched by awareness of the other uses. By speaking as the flower itself, she reverses the typical dialogue. This is not about what a human thinks of poppies, it is about what a poppy thinks about humans. Her poppy sees humans as guarded and closed, unable to show the fire in their own hearts. Unburdened by a mind, the poppy is pure feeling.

For me, this poem is made by its last word. Such an unlikely word for a poem where the poppy is a little didactic and even superior to its audience, lecturing the humans on their failure to open up, and claiming a connection to God because God’s glory is of the heart.

What has shattered the poppy? The countless deaths it is associated with? The intensity of its color? The brevity of its life? And how are we shattered?

(Purchase poetry by Louise Gluck here, or at your favorite local bookseller.)

One Response to “Sunday Poetry: The Red Poppy, by Louise Gluck”

  1. Andrew says:

    It's shattered because it's been stepped on and it speaks to symbolize him becoming human–much like the tree of knowledge, pandora's box, et cetera. He knows now that like his brothers and sisters he will be reincarnated into a human, the very thing that has shattered him.

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