The Wild Iris
by Louise Glück
When poets refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
Greek Goddess Iris (title)
Louise Glück is gaga for Greek mythology. She even based her poetic sequence Meadowlands on the Odyssey—a long poem by the ancient Greek poet Homer—borrowing the characters Odysseus and Penelope to comment on contemporary marriage.
So it's probably not too much of a stretch to see a mythological allusion in the title of "The Wild Iris." In Greek mythology, Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, connecting the sea and sky (hmmm, there's seawater in this poem… ). And Homer refers to Iris as a messenger who links the gods to humanity.
Images of the goddess Iris appear on Greek vases. She is portrayed as a young woman with wings who carries a staff and a container of water.
Greek Goddess Persephone (8-10, 16-18)
Some commentators go even further, suggesting that Glück's poem also alludes to the Greek myth of Persephone. Kidnapped by Hades, who is god of the dead and ruler of the underworld, Persephone must live underground with him during the winter (talk about a nightmare!) but is allowed to rejoin her mother Demeter, goddess of the harvest, for the rest of the year so that the crops (and wild iris?) will grow.
Granted, this kind of cyclical descent and ascent seems relevant to the themes of the poem, but we're not sure Persephone really qualifies as a shout-out, since Glück doesn't refer to the goddess by name. What do you think?