‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück is a tragic poem on the death of a group of children who were drowned in a pond. The poetic persona who narrates the story in this poem appears to be a detached onlooker of the incident. Her tone is cold as the frozen pond. There is a mood of acceptance in place of lamenting the loss. However, the poem also presents the attitude of society on the incident. Like Pieter Bruegel’s “The Fall of Icarus”, drowning has no major impact on people’s minds. It is just one of the tragic incidents happening in a corner of the earth. People either pass by with a sigh or say, “It is natural that they should drown.”
‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück starts the statement, “You see, they have no judgment.” It creates the mood of the poem. The poem is not going to lament the loss rather it would comment on the incident in a detached manner. In the first stanza of the poem, the poet says the children were ignorant of what they were doing. It led to their demise. Thereafter the poet says, death is always egalitarian in nature. That’s why she accepted those children in her cold breast without thinking much about their age. In the end, the poet says, the pond is actually responsible for their death as she has urged them to jump into it.
You can read the full poem here.
‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück contains three stanzas. The first two stanzas have 7 lines in each and the last stanza has 5 lines. Being a modern poem, it does not have a specific rhyme scheme. The poem goes on with its internal rhyming. The expansion and contraction of the lines of the poem are significant regarding the ideas present in the lines. Likewise, the last line of the second stanza is extremely short. After saying, “their bodies”, it is natural that the poet should pause to digest what she has visualized with her mental eyes.
In the last stanza, the italicized portion is what the pond said to those children. This section creates an ambiance that it seems the poet is not talking about any real incident. It adds a surreal touch to the poem. However, the poet makes use of both trochaic and iambic meter in the poem. But there is not any set metrical scheme in the poem. The meter in each line follows the mood of the poet.
‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück contains some significant use of literary devices. In the first line, the poet uses an apostrophe. The poet directly addresses the readers by using this device. The second line contains an irony as well as a paradox. It reflects the attitude of the poetic persona on this tragic incident. There is an alliteration in the phrase, “taking them”. The line containing this device also has a personification. Here the poet personifies the “ice”. There is another personification in the last line of the first stanza. The poet personifies the “pond” here.
The poet presents a climax in the last three lines, “…the lamp,/ the good white cloth that covered the table,/ their bodies” of the second stanza. The “bodies” at the end of the stanza heightens the tragic effect on a reader’s mind. In the third stanza, there is a simile in the line, “like lures slipping over the pond”. The pond’s narration presents a palilogy. There is a metaphor for death in the last line of the poem.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
You see, they have no judgment.
And the pond lifts them in its manifold dark arms.
‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück presents the tragic death of the children in the first stanza. Like a passive onlooker of things, the poet addresses readers to imagine how the incident appears to her. According to the poetic persona, death is natural. The children are destined to be drowned as they are ignorant and innocent. The perspective present here adds a “realistic” layer into the poem. Their death is absolutely shocking at first hand but it is also unavoidable. As those children ignored reality playfully, they faced such an unfortunate ending.
In this stanza, the poet also presents how they died. After accidentally falling into the pond, the chilly winter has frozen their bodies, and one day their bodies were found in that state. In the last line, the poet employing a pathetic fallacy writes, “And the pond lifts them in its manifold dark arms.”
But death must come to them differently,
In the second stanza, the poet talks about death. The poetic persona thinks those children would have died differently. Their death at such a young age is tragic. The poet scorns the attitude of death in this stanza. According to the poet, those children were not physically blind. For their innocence, they failed to sense reality. And it led to their death.
In the last few lines of this stanza, the poet presents the images of a lamp, a shroud, and at last their drowned bodies. This section heightens the tragic mood of the poem. The cold reference to “their bodies” in the last line represents the transience of life.
And yet they hear the names they used
in the waters, blue and permanent.
In the last stanza of the poem, the poet visualizes their journey to the watery world in her poetic imagination. Their souls are going back from where they came from. As those children are no more, there is nothing to grieve for. Hence, the poet wishes that their souls might rest in peace in heaven. The pond has helped their souls to lighten the earthly burden and freed them from their bodies.
The pond, like a mother, calls her children, “What are you waiting for/ come home, come home…” The poet thinks they are no more because they have heard the call of mother nature too early in their lives.
‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück was published in the poetry anthology, “The First Four Books of Poems” in 1968. Louise Glück was a poet of the postmodern era. The poet’s attitude while discussing the death of those children presents the postmodern influence on her mind. The cold tone of the speaker in the poem represents another important influence on the poet’s writings. It is realism, a theory based on Charles Darwin’s scientific theory of natural selection. The poet talks about death as a natural phenomenon. There are not any overflowing emotions coming from her heart regarding the death of those children. Her persona appears to be a passive narrator of the scene.
Louise Glück received the Nobel Prize recently for her rare poetic talent.
Like ‘The Drowned Children’ by Louise Glück, there are certain poems that utilize the themes present in this poem. Here is a list of a few of those poetic works.
- Musee des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden – In this poem by W.H. Auden, the theme of death is similar to that of Glück’s poem.
- The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins – The poem talks about drowning innovatively and Billy Collin‘s representation of drowning reflects a similar sense of realism.
- Death, be not Proud (Holy Sonnet 10) by John Donne – In this poem by John Donne, the poet’s attitude towards death is similar enough.
- A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London by Dylan Thomas – Dylan Thomas used a similar kind of concept regarding the death of a child.