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Read Louise Glück’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech.


December 7, 2020, 11:31am

This morning, the Swedish Academy published the full text of Louise Glück’s acceptance speech for the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, which she was awarded in October. You can read it in full here (in English or Swedish!).

In awarding Glück the honor, the Nobel judging committee cited Glück’s “unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.” Glück’s speech also dealt with the intimate vs. the collective—below, an excerpt:

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.

In art of the kind to which I was drawn, the voice or judgment of the collective is dangerous. The precariousness of intimate speech adds to its power and the power of the reader, through whose agency the voice is encouraged in its urgent plea or confidence.

… 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 honor the intimate, private voice, which public utterance can sometimes augment or extend, but never replace.

Beautiful—and an exciting prelude to Glück’s new poetry collection, Winter Recipes from the Collective, out from Carcanet in 2021. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, you can read the title poem here.

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