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"Embrace" by Louise Gluck delves into the nuanced dynamics of a relationship, framed through the lens of an education in mythology. The poem grapples with the tensions between intimacy and detachment, knowledge and emotion, as well as the tangible and the divine. It explores how relationships can serve as avenues for existential questioning and a grappling with both the mythical and the earthly aspects of life.

The opening lines introduce a relationship in which the woman "taught him the gods," but it's ambiguous as to what exactly this 'teaching' comprises. Is it an imparting of religious or mythological understanding, or could it be an unfolding of wisdom and life's complexities? Though the man continues "hating them," he begins to realize their reality through their "long evenings of obsessive talk." This suggests that the act of verbal engagement, even without agreement or affection, adds dimensions to one's understanding.

However, the gods never become "innately human" for him. This statement underscores a lingering detachment, a failure (or perhaps refusal) to wholly identify with the divine. He remains an observer both of the gods and of the woman. "In the firelight, he watched her face," the poem notes, emphasizing his role as a spectator unable to breach the distance between them. The woman herself "would not be touched," having "rejected the original need." This original need could be variously interpreted-physical touch, emotional vulnerability, or even a primal, human yearning for connection and understanding.

Interestingly, the term "original need" could also allude to a kind of original sin or a fundamental human flaw, making her rejection an act of transcending human limitations. She remains an enigma, just like the gods she talks about. It's significant that he leads her back "in the darkness," as if acknowledging that true understanding-of gods or humans-remains elusive, only graspable in the realm of the unknown or unseen.

The ending lines evoke a sense of the sublime: "above the trees, the city rose in a kind of splendor / as all that is wild comes to the surface." As they emerge from their intimate, dimly lit space, they are greeted by a world that reflects the innate wildness and complexity of their own emotional landscape. The city, in its "kind of splendor," becomes a symbol of the intricate, untamable aspects of life and relationships. It captures the very tensions present between the couple-the mixture of distance and closeness, understanding and mystery.

In "Embrace," Gluck succeeds in crafting a complex emotional narrative that mirrors the intricate webs of human relationships and intellectual endeavors. The poem becomes a microcosm of how people navigate love and knowledge, always striving for closeness yet often settling in the ambiguous terrain of emotional and existential uncertainty.


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