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Analysis of Poem 'Mock Orange' by Louise Glück

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Louise Glück

Louise Glück

Louise Glück and a Summary of 'Mock Orange'

'Mock Orange' is a short, free verse poem of five stanzas and focuses on the feelings of a speaker disillusioned with sex, romance and male domination.

Almost confessional in tone, the main themes are personal hurt, sexual experience and gender role.

The poem's opening lines are stark and assertive, the first person speaker reinforcing the notion of discontent by addressing the reader (or someone close, a relative or friend or confidante?), asserting that the light in the yard doesn't come from the moon but a flower of the mock orange.

Is the speaker peering out of a window, or sitting in the yard, observing the scene? Or is this all happening in the mind? Gone immediately is the romance conventionally associated with the moon, symbol of emotion and femininity, related to the blood and menstruation and madness.

Instead, the fake orange (Philadelphus) dominates and influences, the speaker's ire obvious in the second stanza which underlines in no uncertain terms a hatred for men, their physicality in the sex act.

There is a sense of frustrated grounding, held by the earth in the yard, being mocked over and over by men, which brings uncertainty and discontent.

The short lines carry weight, the direct speech reflecting a deep loathing for the union with the male. Consider the language and the expression—hate/sealing/paralyzing/cry/humiliating—this is a speaker who offers no romantic ideals at all.

As the poem progresses, the reader is given more inner material to work with. The fourth stanza reveals that the speaker sees sexual liaison as a ploy by the male to undermine the female. This is the old way, where the union ends with 'tired antagonisms.'

Finally there is the question, without definitive answer—there remains the mock orange, a metaphorical memory that resists and persists. The speaker cannot become whole through sex alone, remains split, and cannot move on until vital questions are answered.

Louise Glück received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2020, reward for decades of quietly perceptive and insightful poems, forging a path ahead for women, artists and lovers of myth.

The Swedish Academy noted "her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

'Mock Orange' first appeared in her book The Triumph of Achilles in 1985 as the opening poem.

'Mock Orange' by Louise Glück

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
paralyzing body—

and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—

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. Do you see?
We were made fools of.
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.

How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?

Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis of 'Mock Orange'

First Stanza

The opening three lines are conversational in tone, a first person speaker seeming to address someone close, a friend perhaps, or a listener. And the present tense brings immediacy.

Forget the moon, that is not the source of light in the yard. Forget romance, femininity and all emotion (the moon being symbolic of these)—concentrate instead on the flowers, these flowers.

Mock Orange, a shrub-like small tree, has white, creamy flowers, and a scent similar to that of a real orange.

Second Stanza

There is a strong reaction against the flowers because they are not the real thing, they are fake, and the speaker hates them. In the same breath the speaker admits that she hates sex too, specifically that part of the act where the man's mouth is 'sealing'—note not kissing but completely cutting off, in the way a tomb is sealed, or an envelope.

And the man's body is described as paralyzing which implies the speaker is left unable to move, bereft of nerve and feeling.

This language is revealing—hate/sealing/paralyzing—all negatively charged. It appears the speaker's experience of love-making isn't all it should be. The man is given a dark persona, a threatening one.

Third Stanza

The speaker adds insult to injury by using the verb to escape in relation to the cry (which comes from the woman or the man?), suggesting the issue of freedom is at stake here.

This consistent cry comes hand-in-hand with the premise (an idea that then becomes an act) of sexual union. But that word humiliating colors the whole scene and gives the impression that this is not a positive situation for the woman.

Fourth Stanza

Immediacy is again reinforced, the speaker thinking of the sexual act as question and answer (the woman questioning, the man answering?), become one sound—the cry transformed, the build up described sexually (mounts and mounts) before the union ends.

The resulting tired antagonisms implies a jaded experience for the woman, sex bringing tension.

There follows a question that echoes the first stanza's, I tell you, and again reminds the reader that there is someone else present in this poem, someone who has not yet cottoned on.

Do you see? Women have been used, made fools of by the man's domination. The past tense were is of note—women are no longer content to let the status quo continue, despite the mock orange scent pervading.

Fifth Stanza

Questions, questions still. The speaker isn't prepared to let things be. The scent becomes an odor, the pretense lingering, the restlessness apparent because what appears truthful is not.

Sources

  • The Body Electric, Norton, 2000
  • Poetry Foundation
  • 'Louise Glück: where to start with an extraordinary Nobel winner' | Nobel prize in literature | The Guardian
  • Sadoff, Ira. “Louise Glück and the Last Stage of Romanticism.” New England Review (1990-), vol. 22, no. 4, 2001, pp. 81–92. JSTOR. Accessed 7 Sept. 2021.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Andrew Spacey

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