The Burning Heart

Louise Glück

“No sadness is greater than in misery to rehearse memories of joy.…”

Ask her if she regrets anything.

I was
promised to another—
I lived with someone.
You forget these things when you’re touched.

Ask her how he touched her.

His gaze touched me
before his hands touched me.

Ask her how he touched her.

I didn’t ask for anything;
everything was given.

Ask her what she remembers.

We were hauled into the underworld.

I thought
we were not responsible
any more than we were responsible
for being alive. I was
a young girl, rarely subject to censure:
then a pariah. Did I change that much

from one day to the next?
If I didn’t change, wasn’t my action
in the character of that young girl?

Ask her what she remembers.

I noticed nothing. I noticed
I was trembling.

Ask her if the fire hurts.

I remember
we were together.
And gradually I understood
that though neither of us ever moved
we were not together but profoundly separate.

Ask her if the fire hurts.

You expect to live forever with your husband
in fire more durable than the world.
I suppose this wish was granted,
where we are now being both
fire and eternity.

Do you regret your life?

Even before I was touched, I belonged to you;
you had only to look at me.


Louise Glück is a poet and essayist. She is the Rosenkranz Writer-in-Residence at Yale and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020.
Originally published:
January 1, 1999

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