Burning Leaves

Louise Glück

The fire burns up into the clear sky,
eager and furious, like an animal trying to get free,
to run wild as nature intended—

When it burns like this,
leaves aren’t enough—it’s
acquisitive, rapacious,

refusing to be contained, to accept limits—

There’s a pile of stones around it.
Past the stones, the earth’s raked clean, bare—

Finally the leaves are gone, the fuel’s gone,
the last flames burn upwards and sidewards—

Concentric rings of stones and gray earth
circle a few sparks;
the farmer stomps on these with his boots.

It’s impossible to believe this will work—
not with a fire like this, those last sparks
still resisting, unfinished,
believing they will get everything in the end

since it is obvious they are not defeated,
merely dormant or resting, though no one knows
whether they represent life or death.

Louise Glück was a poet and essayist. She was the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry and Professor in the Practice at Yale University. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020.
Originally published:
April 1, 2008

Featured

Books

Life in the Algorithm

It has reshaped culture—but how? Two new books reckon with our digital predicament.
Anna Shechtman

The Night Watch

I first sought sanctuary during the Troubles. I'm still looking for it.
Darran Anderson

Why I Write

The legendary cultural critic on finding a life’s work
Greil Marcus

You Might Also Like

Sunrise

Louise Glück

Harvest

Louise Glück


Subscribe

New perspectives, enduring writing. Join a conversation 200 years in the making. Subscribe to our print journal and receive four beautiful issues per year.
Subscribe