Mock orange is a deciduous shrub native to Southern Europe, resembles the orange blossoms. In the poem ‘Mock Orange,’ Louise Glück uses these mock orange flowers to depict her disappointment in life in general. The word “mock” kind of goes along with the idea of the world being this fake thing that people have to deal with for some reason. Also, the speaker seems to think that the world is making a mockery of her and the life she tries to lead.
Explore Mock Orange
‘Mock Orange’ may look like a simple poem filled with images that invite sight, smell, and sound. But, in reality, it is a call for a woman to find her personal identity that is not established by gender. Glück’s matter-of-fact style in the poem is added with striking imagery and emotion, to exemplify the theme.
‘Mock Orange’ deals with the subject of heterosexual love giving negative and transgressive images of it. It presents love as something of a sexual union that has nothing in the end. It has no communion, no spiritual joining, and no rebirth but “the low, humiliating/ premise of union.” The speaker says that the sexual act, like the mock orange blossoms, doesn’t deliver the fruit of its promise.
Form and Structure
‘Mock Orange’ is a free verse poem written in twenty-four lines. It is divided into five stanzas of different lengths. It is an impulsive confessional poem of the speaker/the poet. The poem has adopted the intimate conversational mode. The speaker is an unhappy woman. She is unhappy with the smell, the flowers, love, and the world at large. The speaker first talks of her smaller problems, such as her garden flowers, then her personal life, and then her problems with such a fickle and unpredictable world she has to deal with. She uses the odor to say she does not know how she can deal with such a messed up world.
The tone of a poem helps the reader to understand the poet’s attitude towards the speaker, reader, and subject matter. It lies in the poem’s vocabulary, metrical structure, syntax, figurative language, and rhyme. The tone of ‘Mock Orange’ is hostile, for the poet begins with a negative statement: “It is not the moon, I tell you. It is the flowers lighting the yard”. The hostility is continued up to the second stanza where she declares her hatred for the flowers which in turn her hatred for sex. She blatantly describes how she hates everything about physical interactions. Even in the last stanza, she declares her hatred that makes her restless, stating, “How can I rest?” Here, she finely projects her hatred for the flower and the gender-biased interactions.
Literary and Poetic Techniques Used
‘Mock Orange’ is written in the first-person. By using the first-person, Gluck draws her readers more deeply into the poem. “I” is used six times in the poem to show how Gluck views the flowers and sex. It is simply not what the speaker but a representation of how others might see the situation too.
The poet’s use of diction is another important element of this poem. Her choice of words, such as “flowers”, “hate”, “sex”, “paralyzing”, “humiliating”, “mount”, “fools”, and “odor” in the poem allow her readers to visualize these images.
The flower image used in the poem enables the readers to visualize their colors, different types, sizes, and a list of other things. It also stands to symbolize the poet/speaker’s detestation for the flowers and sexual intercourse, that doesn’t bear the desirable fruits.
Analysis of Mock Orange
It is not the moon, I tell you.
lighting the yard.
The poet begins the poem by breaking the convention of the nature poem for she opens up with the negative sentence. As the poem progresses, the reader will definitely come to the understanding that it is not a natural poem. The speaker says that “It is not the moon,” that lights the yar, but these “mock” flowers that illuminate it. It looks like the poet is fonder of flowers than the moon, if not for her views in the second stanza.
I hate them.
Once again in the second stanza, she opens up with her outright views on the flowers and sex. She compares her hatred for the flower to her hatred for sex. The flower image and her aversion to physical intimacy with a man, in the end, is substantiated her idea of both yielding nothing in the end. A total transformation of the idea is present in this stanza for the poet speaks of the vulgarity of intimacy in contrast to the delicate flowers. The speaker’s use of matter-of-fact tone, tight poetic lines, and diction make her statements all the more exciting and chilling.
and the cry that always escapes,
premise of union—
In the third stanza, she delves deep into her perspective of sexual union. She criticizes that there is no communion or spiritual joining or rebirth when one involves in an intimate reaction. She presents as if it is all an act or hallucination, for it is an excuse to create shame while pretending to bond. The sexual act, like the mock orange blossoms, doesn’t deliver the fruit of its promise. The lovers break apart into the “tired antagonisms” that define them.
In my mind tonight
I hear the question and pursuing answer
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.
In the fourth stanza, Gluck continues with her negative and transgressive images of heterosexuality. She ponders over it again and again she ends up tired. They going back to the ‘antagonism’ symbolize how nothing has changed even after their physical intimacy. She feels the bonding as an illusion, thus she says “We are made fools of,” with ‘we’ standing for women who had been given a projection of being women. The scent of mock orange that “drifts through the window” could be a failure of a woman or her desires and dreams. Similar to the way the smell of the mock orange goes away anything women does will also be forgotten for she is defined by others opinion more than her individuality.
How can I rest?
that odor in the world?
The last stanza of ‘Mock Orange,’ demonstrates the poet’s restlessness, its deep agitation, its failure to find that transcendent Romantic image. The poem here resists the regular ending of the descriptive-meditative structure, as it leaps out of itself that most of us expect from the spiritual yearning poem. “How can I be content,” the speaker asks, “when there is still/ that odor in the world?” The odor stands to symbolize the fruits to come, but these mock oranges though takes over the color and smell of the orange tree, don’t bear fruits as one hopes for. So, as she concludes the poem, we see a kind of determination in the speaker, for she doesn’t want to go away. She clearly presents her disillusioned mind and the treatments she is going through.
Louise Glück is one of America’s great poets, a poet of truly tragic stature. Her work is profound and sometimes shocking, also Intensely serious and often surprisingly witty. Her poems wrestle with “the human condition” — family and love, sex and marriage, loneliness and separation, the spiritual quality of nature; increasingly and inevitably mortality, the terrors, and on rare occasions the joys of sheer existence. The following poems have a close resemblance to ‘Mock Orange’, for example:
- ‘The Drowned Children‘ – A poem that talks about the tragic death of a few children in a pond.
- ‘The Circe’s Power‘ – A skillful and compelling expansion on the story of Circe and Odysseys from Homer’s Odyssey.
- ‘The October‘ – This poem muses on the natural change in October and the poet’s personal thoughts about autumn.
- ‘The Wild Iris‘ – This poem is a complex and deeply metaphorical poem that describes death from the perspective of a flower.