Reading Witchgrass by Louise Glück - A song of complaint about name calling

This morning I was meditating upon Witchgrass by Louise Glück. Let me share the poem, and then some thoughts on the same.


Louise Glück

comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder—

If you hate me so much
don’t bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another
way to blame
one tribe for everything—

as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
One enemy—

I’m not the enemy.
Only a ruse to ignore
what you see happening
right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure. One of your precious flowers
dies here almost every day
and you can’t rest until
you attack the cause, meaning
whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion—

It was not meant
to last forever in the real world.
But why admit that, when you can go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together.

I don’t need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field. 

This poem delves into the intricate power dynamics between human language and the natural world. Through the personification of the weed, specifically referred to as "witchgrass," the poem highlights its discontent with the negative connotations associated with its name. The weed argues that it has been wrongly accused of causing the death of delicate flowers cultivated by humans. In truth, it asserts that the flowers were destined to wither and die naturally, and it has merely become a scapegoat for their demise.

The weed proclaims its longevity and precedence over human presence, asserting that it existed before humans cultivated gardens and will likely persist long after their departure. Despite the unjust blame it receives, the weed confidently declares its ultimate victory, stating, "I will constitute the field." This phrase encapsulates the resilience and endurance of the weed, defying the accusations and asserting its integral role in the natural world.

I think the poet masterfully captures this song of rightful complaint, with the weed voicing its grievances against the unjust associations and blame placed upon it. The poem ultimately emphasizes the weed's resilience and challenges the limitations of human language in defining and categorizing the complexities of the natural world.

Other poems about name calling: 

In Gurbani Kabir says that people call him crazy, but God knows the mystery. He implies the truth that he might be the sane one in an insane world. Guru Nanak likewise says that people call him Diwana. I am reminded of a few other poems that cover name calling and the power of words:

"Sticks and Stones" by Dora Alice Holmes

This poem challenges the old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It reflects on the lasting impact of hurtful words and the emotional wounds they can inflict.

"Names" by Marilyn Nelson

In this poem, the speaker reflects on the power of names and how they can shape one's identity and perception. It explores the labels and stereotypes associated with different names, highlighting the impact they have on individuals.

"Label Poem" by Philip Levine

Levine's poem explores the way society categorizes and labels individuals, often based on superficial aspects such as appearance or occupation. It delves into the implications and limitations of these labels, questioning their accuracy and true representation of a person's essence.

"Slurs" by Martin Espada

Espada's poem confronts the use of racial slurs and the impact they have on individuals and communities. It challenges the power dynamics embedded in these derogatory terms and emphasizes the need for empathy, understanding, and respect.

"To This Day" by Shane Koyczan

While not explicitly focused on name-calling, this spoken word poem addresses the lasting effects of bullying, including the power of words used to demean and hurt others. It explores the pain and resilience of those who have been subjected to name-calling and emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and kindness.

Other Themes and reminders 

  • Wild and crazy - Kabir's Baura; Nanak's Diwana
  • Longevity and Infinity
  • It might be losing the battle, but it will win the war and constitute the field - Guru Gobind Singh's Deh Shiva, Guru Nanak Man Jeetai Jagjit 

What is Witchgrass

Witchgass is a North American grass. The tufted grass is an annual plant that has hairy stems and large seed heads. It is the seed heads which give witchgrass weeds their name. When ripe, the seeds burst out and quickly scatter for long distances in the wind.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Witchgrass Weed Control – How To Get Rid Of Witchgrass

Other poems by Louise Gluck: