Sujata Bhatt

Iris by Sujata Bhatt

‘Iris’ by Sujata Bhatt is a narrative poem with lyric qualities. It depicts an artist’s wait for the sun to come out and bring out the colors in a single iris.

The poem is forty lines long and divided, through a few turns, into different moments. First, the artist depicts the foggy, dreary landscape that is mostly a combination of gray tones. Then, she waits, knowing that the sun is going to come out and allow her to paint the iris in its true colors. 

The sun does come out, and she works quickly to capture its blues, oranges, yellows, and greens.  Then, as quickly as the sun came out, it disappeared. The final short section of the poem describes how the artist, despite no longer seeing the colors in front of that her, has them as part of her memory permanently.

Iris by Sujata Bhatt


Summary 

‘Iris’ by Sujata Bhatt describes an artist’s relationship with her art and the scene she’s depicting. 

The poem begins with the narrator describing a foggy and dreary scene that an artist is capturing with paints. The landscape is so gray that one might see the ground and the sky merging into one. But, the artist knows that if she waits long enough, the overwhelming greatness of the scene is going to lift, at least for a moment. 

Her patience pays off, the sun comes out, and she is able to capture the wide range of colors that the iris truly boasts.

The sun disappears as quickly as it came out but, the memory of the colors is permanently marked in the artist’s mind. 

Meaning 

The meaning of this poem is that sometimes, in order to see true, meaningful beauty, one has to wait. For the artist, this means enduring a rainy, gray, and foggy landscape for an unknown period of time, knowing that at some point, the sun is going to come out and reveal the truly vibrant colors of a single, wilting iris. The artist is willing to sit and study the scene patiently and, when the moment arises, act swiftly and gracefully to capture it. 

Structure and Form 

‘Iris’ by Sujata Bhatt is a forty-line poem that is within one long stanza. This is known as block form. The poet wrote this piece in free verse, meaning that she did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are different lengths, ranging from three words up to ten. She also uses a range of literary techniques, words at the ends of lines, and examples of rhythm, none of which conform to a specific pattern. 

Literary Devices 

The poet uses a few different literary devices in this piece. They include: 

  • Imagery: occurs when the poet uses interesting descriptions that should trigger readers’ senses. For example, “A drop of black is washed grey, / cloudy as warm breath fogging cool glass.”
  • Juxtaposition: two different images that, side by side, emphasize the other in their differences. For example, the dreary grey landscape and the vibrantly colored iris. 
  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that do not use “like” or “as.” For example, the artist’s movements and painting style are compared to a bird building a nest. 
  • Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line of verse, usually accomplished through the use of punctuation. For example, “But closer, a single iris stands fully opened.”


Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-7

Her hand sweeps over the rough grained paper, 

then, with a wet sponge, again. 

(…)

of the mist settling around twisted birch trees. 

The poet employs a literary technique known as in medias res in the first line of the text. She brings the reader into the middle of a scene without introducing the setting, characters, or actions first. There is no description as to what’s going on and it is up to the reader to figure out who the characters are and what they are up to in this forty-line poem.

From the very first lines, it is clear that the main character, a woman, is a painter. The first few lines are entirely dedicated to the movements the woman’s hand makes as she paints a landscape. 

There is no information about where the woman is, where the landscape she’s painting is, or what drove her to paint this particular scene. Instead, the speaker begins by describing the woman’s hand brushing across the paper she’s working on. It is rough-grained, meaning that the grains of the paper are visible and add texture.

The poet’s use of language suggests that the woman is gentle and thoughtful with her materials. She takes a great deal of care and time in what she does and is truly affected by the outcome. The poet uses the word “must” to describe the woman’s need to get the color of the stone wall just right, suggesting that the painter feels like she really has no choice but to work in a particular way. Her artistic need is driving her onward. 

The poet also writes that the female painter feels as though she needs to make the most of the work she’s doing now. Perhaps meaning that the painter needs to use what she’s already created and finish it in the best way she possibly can or, make use of the scene playing out in front of her and put it down on paper before it disappears.

Lines 8-12 

Her eye doesn’t miss the rabbit crouched, 

(…)

But closer, a single iris stands fully opened:

In the next few lines, the speaker informs the reader that the painter is thoughtful but also very attuned to the scene playing out in front of her. She doesn’t miss the exact colors of the stone nor does she miss the “rabbit crouched” in the fog of the tall grass. So far, the colors have been muted. The poet has used words like “black,” “foggy,” “grey,” and “mist.” It’s clear that the scene is a muted one, mostly greys, and blacks. 

There is nothing to stop the “grey sky from merging into stones” or the “stone walls from trailing off into the sky.” The scene is made up entirely of the same few colors. This means that, for the painter, it may be difficult to differentiate the sky from the stones and the ground. It would be very easy to let all the elements of the scene merge together into one series of grey tones.

There is a turn or transition in the twelfth line of the poem when the poet mentions a single iris that features in the landscape and provides a slight juxtaposition with the overwhelming grey tones.

Lines 13-21

dark wrinkled petals, rain-moist, 

the tall slender stalk sways, her hand follows. 

(…)

lie shrivelled: empty shells spiralling

right beneath the petals. 

The speaker notes right away that even the iris, which is normally described as a bright, colorful flower, is now, in the scene, “rain-moist” and “tinged with grey.” It too is affected by the scene around it, drenched in the rain and consumed by fog and mist. 

As the flower’s “slender stalk sways,” the artist’s hand follows. She notices everything and captures it with the movements of her hand across the paper.

The iris is also in the shadow of the stone around it. The shadow “lies heavy” over the flower’s petals. But, the artist feels as though there is time enough to wait for the scene to change. 

Rather than everything she sees right away, the artist pauses to analyze the images in front of her. She is studying the lopsided, “rain moist” shape of the iris.

She notices the shriveled sepals or the part of the flower that usually functions as a form of protection for the flower while budding. It’s also known as the calyx. They are, the artist notes, “empty shell spiralling” just beneath the petals.

Lines 22-32

As she stares the sun comes out. 

And the largest petal flushes deep deep violet. 

(…)

moves the way a bird builds its nest. 

There is another turn in line twenty-two. The sun comes out, and suddenly the grays are transformed into “deep deep violet.” The flower’s purple color is so intense it’s “almost black.” 

The sun makes such a difference in the color scheme of the scene that it is shocking. The areas that aren’t black violet “trimble indigo.” The use of personification in this line to describe the vibrantly trembling colors helps readers understand how saturated the scene suddenly appeared and the way it affected the artist.

There are others in the flower as well. These are the red veins, yellow-orange rails, and the yellow flowing down the “green stem.” Suddenly, where there was nothing, there was every color that you could imagine.

The artist was prepared for the sun to come out, and her hand moved swiftly from her palette to the paper and back again. The brush swoops up and down and moves in the same way that a bird builds its nest, the poet says. This is a very good metaphor to describe the grace and precision the artist exhibits with her materials.

Lines 34-40 

An instant and the sun is gone. 

Grey-ash-soft-shadows fall again.

(…)

indigo pulsing to violet.

In the final lines, the sun disappears in an instant. It was there, and then it vanished, adding value to the moments the artist was able to experience and put to paper. If the sun were always out, it would not be noteworthy when such vibrant, beautiful colors did appear.

The “gray-ash-soft” shadows fall over the scene again. But, the artist was paying attention, and now, when she closed her eyes, she could see the same orange, red, yellow, green, blue, and violet colors that the flower exhibited when the sun was out. 

In these final lines, the poet uses a technique known as kinesthesia in these last lines, suggesting that to the artist, the colors have feelings and movements and evoke an emotional response. The green throbs towards blue, and the indigo pulses to violet. 

It’s clear that the artist cares deeply about her work and nature more generally. It is this kind of passion that she brings to her paintings, something that suggests that her final pieces are likely filled with remarkable colors and emotional substance.

FAQs 

What is ‘Iris’ about? 

The poem ‘Iris’ is about a painter’s patient wait for the sun to come out and reveal the truly brilliant, “throbbing” colors of a single wilting iris previously weighed down by rain.

What is the purpose of ‘Iris?’

The purpose is to emphasize the fleeting beauty of nature and how, without patience and intuition, one will miss the beautiful scenes that unfold in the natural world every day. The artist is very aware of what it takes to see the beauty that nature can convey, even when a day seems entirely dark and without joy. 

What is the message of ‘Iris?’

The message is that it is worth waiting to experience vibrant beauty. The poet also suggests that to create meaningful art, one has to be willing to see past what others might interpret as a colorless and meaningless scene. 

Who is the speaker in ‘Iris?’ 

The speaker is unknown. They are third-person limited omniscient narrator who describes a painter’s actions and emotional experience without delving into her thoughts. They are unimportant in comparison to the painter. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Sujata Bhatt poems. For example: 

  • Search for My Tongue– explores the speaker’s struggle to embrace a new culture. 
  • The Stare’ – depicts an interaction between a monkey and a young child. 
  • The Peacock’ – is a free verse poem about someone’s interaction with a peacock. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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