Week 416: The Wild Iris, by Louise Gluck

I confess that until last week’s news that she had won the Nobel Prize for literature I had not heard of the American poet Louise Gluck (oh, come on, David, do keep up), but I soon found a good selection of her work online. Some poets possess you immediately, some you need to live with for a while: at the moment I don’t feel I’ve quite tuned in to these spare, mythic poems but I’ve made a good start with this one, the title poem from a 1992 collection.

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

Louise Gluck


7 thoughts on “Week 416: The Wild Iris, by Louise Gluck

  1. Ah, I find it hard to think of a poet one shouldn’t read selectively. Some more selectively than others, of course… 🙂

  2. I discovered Louise Glück by chance in New Zealand a few years ago, David. I borrowed the Wild Iris collection from a ‘Lilliput’ library: a tiny cupboard on a garden fence, one of a neighbourhood of little libraries. I enjoyed this collection and the particular poem you’ve posted – and I still have the book because I offered something else as a replacement. I hope you come to enjoy her work with familiarity. Like you, I sometimes find a new poet less than instantly rewarding. Quite often I’m afraid.

  3. A quote from Stephanie Burt in the TLS: “The exceptional short poems in The Wild Iris describe a year in and around a garden – both Louise Glück’s own garden in Vermont and an allegorical and general garden world. Plants speak poems named for them; Glück addresses a creator-God in seventeen poems called “Matins” or “Vespers”; in poems named for weather or seasons (“Clear Morning”, “September Twilight”), the God of the Garden responds.”

  4. “WILD BLUE IRIS – Iris missouriensis”. Winter in the frozen earth is “suffering” and “oblivion”. The “you” that the iris addresses seems to be human beings in general.

    • I can’t make a specific connection, but for me the poem has echoes of the Demeter-Persephone myth: Persephone trapped in the underworld, then being allowed to return and bring back spring to the earth.

      • Hi David, yes I can see what you mean. Also, Lazarus (of Bethany) might have experienced his four days in the tomb as “oblivion”, and then he found a “voice” again when Jesus raised him from the dead? (However winter is not present in the story of Lazarus.)

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