Interpreting poetry seems like an uphill task to many people who do not engage with poetry very frequently. Poetry, much opposed to its inherent appeal, is seen as a thing for the elites. It is an amusement for consumers who relish rich vocabulary and can quickly devour any combination of words presented before them.
Owing to such misconceptions, a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry book written by a highly accomplished poet might instantly overwhelm the majority. The poems of Louise Glück are far from being intellectual. Instead, they are for every human being who can feel and understand feelings.
The Wild Iris has the language of flowers, of seasons, dying and regenerating, of mourning and getting through the darkness.
A Year In A Garden
Louise Glück makes references to her garden in Vermont besides describing a metaphorical and general garden world. She addresses a creator in seventeen poems called “Matins” or “Vespers”, names for morning and evening prayers. In poems named after weathers or seasons, like “Clear Morning” or “September Twilight”, the God of the Garden answers Glück’s laments.
Some of her poems illustrate the act of planting or harvesting or waiting for buds to blossom.
The poem titled “The Garden” paints for us a picture of two young lovers planting a row of peas in the rain. Glück points out a moment where the woman touches her lover’s cheek as if to make a truce–
“even here, even at the beginning of love,
her hand leaving his face makes
an image of departure
and they think
they are free to overlook
Glück imparts in her observations her own experiences, which are also universal to all humans. The authenticity of Glück sees through her readers and picks apart their deepest desires and fears. In “Clear Morning,” Glück directly speaks to the reader via the voice of God–
“I’ve watched you long enough,
I can speak to you any way I like–
…I am prepared now to force
clarity upon you.”
Poetry and the Hues Of Suffering
Poetry has the power to help us, communally, traverse trauma. American poet Jacqueline Kolosov writes that poetry often
“disavows the submergence of memory to include overlapping time frames, where physical and spiritual realities brush up against each other, and the speaker of the poem reveals herself/himself to embody a host of other voices and identities: past, present, and future.”Jacqueline Kolosov
Glück offers an intimacy that provides an unexpected comfort despite her scant and haunting lines. The book’s first poem, titled after the name of the book itself, tells the reader–
“At the end of my suffering
there was a door.
Hear me out: that which you call death
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice…”
A sense of loss and disappointment seeps through several of Glück’s verses, just as we notice in our own lives–
at fault, at fault, I asked you
to be human–I am no needier
than other people.”
“Forgive me if I say I love you: the powerful
are always lied to since the week are always
driven by panic.”
The Wild Iris enforces a kind of clarity upon its readers, transparency that tastes bitter at first but warms one from within.
What Constitutes A Burden And What A Choice?
Feelings can be light and fluffy, like a pink rose against the touch of your skin. Emotions can also be unwanted undesirable, like thorns of the same rose. However, feelings remain, and our wish to push them down never does what it is supposed to. Our ability to neglect feelings, whether our own or someone else’s, to put them in a box and shut them out, is a different struggle to overcome–
“I have compared myself
to these flowers, their range of feelings
so much smaller and without issue…”
Glück reminds us of the distribution of grief between us, among all our kind. And it does not exist for comparisons, but only to be felt. End of the day, certain choices depend solely on us. Every one of us has our internal crises to acknowledge and heal. Speaking up is the first step and also the hardest in most cases.
Glück writes in “The Red Poppy,
because I am shattered.”
A dread of consciousness follows every existential crisis. How wonderful would it be not to have a mind that thinks and causes us to feel!
oh, I have those; they
deepens its color.”
Bound together by universal themes and allegories of time, seasons and grief, The Wild Iris questions, explores, and ultimately celebrates the ordeal of being alive. The life cycles of a garden, with its seasonal changes, and time variations from dawn through the night, serve as the backdrop for the themes of life, death, and rebirth.
“...I call you,
father and master: all around,
my companions are failing, thinking
you do not see.
are you not my father,
you who raised me?”
It reminds us of the fallen Adam’s words–
“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me?”
The creature from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, too, quotes these lines. He sees himself as a tragic figure and compares himself to Adam and Satan. Like Adam, he is shunned by the one who gave him life and brought down to the “evil” Satan level.
Throughout the poetry collection, three voices alternate, at times overlapping, that of the gardener, the plants, and what could be called God. Amidst such abandonment at the hands of our creator, what is it that we can do? Glück wants us to spend time with our hands in the dirt, to look at all the flowers, to stand in the garden, however, fallen it may be.
The Wild Iris does not preach. It calls us in and asks us to pause, ponder, and sit with our uncomfortable feelings. The poem does not coddle the readers, nor does it try to soothe them. It calls us to name the parts of us that need to be named, just the way Glück names us and includes us in her suffering.
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About the Author
Vaishnavi Singh is a lover of poetry and literature. She is currently pursuing a major in English along with a minor in sociology. Vaishnavi has always been passionate about improving the world around her, one step at a time, and she hopes her time with The International Prism will contribute to that goal.