There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Louise Glück's poem Nostos


  1. Yashashree says:

    What is the central theme of nostos?

  2. Janeen YOdakis says:

    How do we know why she chose Nostos at the title? In Greek nostos means disease. Perhaps she views our inability to take notice, as adults, the way we once did as children, and that this inability is in essence a form of disease (dis – ease).

    • Robert Bechtel says:

      The title “Nostos” means homecoming.

    • Mr John Roderick Blyth says:

      With all courtesy, the word ‘nostos’ does not mean ‘disease’ – it means ‘return home’ and is used of a cycle of Greek epic poems describing the homecoming of the various heroes who fought at Troy – notably the ‘Odyssey’. Gluck’s poem is from her 1996 collection ‘Meadowlands’ which is a cycle of poems centred on Odysseus, Penelope and Telemachus. It is also useful yo know that the English word ‘nostalgia’ is derives dron the same Greek rood, but combined with a second ‘algos’ which means ‘pain of mind; or grief. A reader of the poem woyill terefore know precisely why the poet chose this title.

  3. reesha browning says:

    a beautiful poem which i relate to and so brings tears

  4. Geri Bloch says:

    Gluck employs the Greek word, “nostos,” meaning going home for this poem about memory. Through her mind’s eye she muses about an apple tree that had been in the yard forty years before, about the meadows behind the tree, the crocus in the grass, and the spring flowers in her neighbor’s yard. After Gluck questions whether or not the tree actually flowered on her birthday, she states, “Substitution of the immutable for the shifting, the evolving. Substitution of the image for the relentless earth.” The poet understands that “We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.” That which we believed to be true, that we knew to be true, has been irrevocably altered by time and the inexorable changes that have taken place are the “shifting, the evolving, . . .the relentless earth.” What is left is nostos, our memory of home and the nostalgic feeling that comes when we do return home. But truth? Ah, that is bound up in memory.

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