‘The Wild Iris’ by Louise Glück is the title poem for her 1992 collection. This volume follows a specific sequence, poem to poem, describing the poet’s garden. She was named the US poet laureate in 2003. In this piece, she delves into themes of the human soul, rebirth/immortality, and the commonalities between all life forms.
Explore The Wild Iris
Summary of The Wild Iris
Throughout the short lines of ‘The Wild Iris,’ the speaker describes what it means to live, die, and be reborn again. They’ve gone through the cycle an endless number of times as a flower. It is a struggle that has a door at the end, a light at the end of the tunnel. They are well-versed in what it is like to be buried alive and exist without a voice and then rediscover that voice as one bends the earth. While the speaker is talking about a flower, there are obvious implications for humanity, and the human soul. It is also possible to read this poem as a depiction of a mental or emotional rebirth rather than a physical one.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of The Wild Iris
‘The Wild Iris’ by Louise Glück is a twenty-three line poem that is separated into uneven stanzas. These range in length from one line up to five. Glück did not choose to make use of a specific metrical pattern or rhyme scheme, a style of writing known as free verse. But, that doesn’t mean that the poem is totally devoid of rhyme, rhythm, and a variety of other literary devices.
Literary Devices in The Wild Iris
Glück makes use of several poetic techniques in The Wild Iris. These include but are not limited to metaphor, personification, and enjambment. The latter, enjambment, occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. It can be seen throughout this poem, specifically in the transitions between lines one and two as well as eight, nine, and ten.
Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. This is seen when the poet gives the speaker, a flower, human qualities. Such as the ability to recall events in the past and then convey those events to a reader.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There are several examples in ‘The Wild Iris’. For example, the image of the earth bending as the speaker reasserts themselves into the living world.
Analysis of The Wild Iris
Lines 1- 7
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface
In the first lines of ‘The Wild Iris,’ the speaker begins with a simple statement. It is spread over two lines, making use of a technique known as enjambment. The line alludes to both darkness and light. The speaker, who may or may not be a flower, suffered but at the end of it “there was a door”. The door is a symbol of hope, happiness, and peace. The use of the word “door” confuses the speaker’s identity further. It is unclear who she is and what she has experienced.
The speaker asks the reader to “Hear [her] out” in the second stanza. These words catch the reader’s attention and make sure that the next lines are weighted with importance. They assert that they remember “death”. But, that “death” is not their own perception of it. The memory is complicated by the speaker’s perspective. It is “that which you call death” that they remember. There’s something different about their perception than the reader’s. This supports the possibility that the speaker is a flower.
In the third stanza, the speaker takes the reader out of a metaphorical world and into a physical one, or at least that’s how it seems. They describe the noises in a natural environment, a good example of auditory imagery, and the “weak sun”. The wind is moving the branches and then all of a sudden there is “nothing”. This could refer to the silence, to imminent death, or to a blank space in the speaker’s mind.
It is terrible to survive
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.
In the next stanza of ‘The Wild Iris, ‘the speaker goes on to say that it is “terrible to survive / as consciousness” while buried in the earth. This is a dark and fearful image that brings up images of people being buried alive. The flower that may be at the centre of this poem would be buried in the dark earth in order to grow, something that is not fearful but life producing. It is interesting to consider why the speaker describes this process as “terrible”. Either way, these lines are a good example of personification.
The distances of the speaker from the light of the world and life is still present in the eleventh and twelfth lines. They are present but unable to make themselves known. They have no voice, something that would be terrifying for any human being. There is a connection being developed here between the experience of the flower and what a human reader can understand.
Finally, the period of being unable to speak comes to its conclusion and the earth bends as the flower pushes its way through it. The speaker recalls how they thought the sounds they previously heard above ground were mysterious now she knows it was the sound of birds. Imagery is used very skillfully here as a reader is asked to imagine the sound of birds flying as one might experience it underground. The image of the birds is an important one. In this case, it is likely symbolizing the human soul, freedom, and peace.
You who do not remember
passage from the other world
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
The sixth stanza picks up with the speaker reminding the reader that they have been telling a story of death. “You,” the reader won’t remember what it was like to move from one world to the next, from the darkness before life into the light. But, this speaker does. Like a flower, this speaker knows rebirth and life and death very well as they go through it every spring. The next lines emphasize this point. The “oblivion” that the speaker refers to is a temporary one.
In the final lines, the speaker expresses the heart of what it means to die and live again. This is done through the image of a “great fountain, deep blue”. This is the voice of the speaker telling the reader that this fountain of water comes from the “centre” of their life. While it is not entirely clear, these lines likely depict the moment that this flower/speaker regains life once more. An experience that all creatures have gone through but it is capable of remembering and relaying.