My choice to read the poem, Gretel In Darkness by Louise Gluck, stemmed from my love of the children’s story that this poem focuses upon. Hansel and Gretel made me laugh as a child and I couldn’t help but be drawn to something so counter intuitive to my thoughts on the original story. The way that Gretel’s mind has warped over the years is nothing short of fascinating. Gluck forces us to reexamine the way we look at our beloved fairytales and she allows us to dig deeper into what is behind Gretel’s pain and suffering with her supreme use of language.
What I found out about my favorite tale was rather unnerving. The lens that is used turns Gretel from an innocent child into a troubled teenager who is dealing with some serious issues. Gluck made a fictional character as written by The Brothers Grimm into a real person with real trauma to deal with after she murders her captor. This poem makes you feel as though you are seeing Gretel on the psychologist’s couch.
Fairytales are too often unrealistic. The characters show no real remorse or psychological repercussions for the actions they are said to commit. The reason that we connected to this story of abandonment as children was because it preyed on our insecurities and a deep fear. It exercised our need to remove the threat from our lives in a healthy way. We got to live without the guilt of the murder and all of the threats gone. Gretel was the one who had to live with the nightmares and the constant reminder that she murdered someone.
As the class observed, the poem is not written in a standard or “typical” form. It is comprised of four stanzas, each six lines long. The lack of rigidity in the form contrasts the way fairytales are typically written. They most typically start with “Once upon a time…” and end with “They lived happily ever after.” There is a noticeable irregularity in the way that the poem is capitalized. It is grammatically punctuated and written in full sentences. Most poems as written in stanzas are written with a capitalized letter at the beginning of every line. It is also note worthy that the first line of the second stanza has been indented. Considering the content of the first stanza as contrasted with the second the indentation seems to convey a passing of time. It shows Gretel’s reluctance to remember and the torture she has endured for years at the hands of her own mind.
Gluck was also careful to show the separation Gretel felt from her brother, Hansel. She resents him for not bearing the burden of the witch’s death along with her and yet she still longs for his companionship and love. She’s upset that her brother cannot help her to move on just as he has been able to. When she screams in the night, no one is there to hold her close and tell her everything will be alright. The way that the lines narrow in the middle of each stanza represents Gretel drawing into herself and then bursting to express the way she is feeling.
Love and Bedsheets,
©KIMBERLY L. JETTE NOVEMBER 20, 2010