Craft & memory: "Ithaca" by Louise Glück

Penelope at Her Loom, John William Waterhouse (1912)

A poem about memory, art, trickery, and devotion. Odysseus was away from his kingdom of Ithaka for twenty years. Ten years fighting the Trojan War, another ten struggling to come back after earning the ill-favor of Poseidon. His clever wife Penelope fended off suitors for her hand by weaving a tapestry, telling the suitors she would marry as soon as it was done, then undoing each day's work in the night.

By Louise Glück

The beloved doesn’t
need to live. The beloved
lives in the head. The loom
is for the suitors, strung up
like a harp with white shroud-thread.

He was two people.
He was the body and the voice, the easy
magnetism of a living man, and then
the unfolding dream or image
shaped by the woman working the loom,
sitting there in a hall filled
with literal-minded men.

As you pity
the deceived sea that tried
to take him away forever
and took only the first,
the actual husband, you must
pity these men: they don’t know
what they’re looking at;
they don’t know that when one loves this way
the shroud becomes a wedding dress.