The Wild Iris
by Louise Glück
Sound Versus Silence
The world can be a pretty noisy place, so we're often grateful for a little peace and quiet. But there's quiet, and there's quiet: sometimes silence can be unwelcome or even creepy. In "The Wild Iris," sound tends to be a good thing because it shows you're alive. Sound is also closely linked to speech. Some of us are chattier by nature than others, but everyone is entitled to a voice, so being deprived of the ability to speak is a pretty scary thought.
- Line 3: The phrase "Hear me out" emphasizes the conversational tone of the poem, encouraging us to imagine the voice of the speaker who is telling the story.
- Line 5: At first, the "noises" we hear are not clearly identified, which is a little unnerving, but then we realize that tree branches are moving in the wind, so the noises probably consist of creaking or rustling. Okay, that seems normal enough.
- Line 6: The sense of relief is momentary, as line 6 plunges us into "nothing." In context, the phrase "Then nothing" means that the noises have stopped. This world seems to have gone silent. Since our ears don't have anything to listen to, our eyes note flickers of "weak" sunlight. We don't have a good feeling about this…
- Lines 8-10: Buried alive in the "dark earth," we lose all sensory perception, unable to move, hear, see, or (as the next stanza explains) speak. You know those nightmares where you know a monster is coming, but your legs don't seem to work, so you can't run away, and your voice doesn't work, so you can't cry for help? Like that.
- Lines 14-15: How does the speaker know that birds are overhead? Maybe the speaker's sense of hearing has returned. Maybe the speaker can now hear the faint sounds of the birds above ground.
- Lines 16-20: After hearing is restored, the ability to speak also returns. That's good news for Shmoop, since we're on the chattier end of the spectrum ourselves and hate the idea of being muzzled. So to summarize: burial and silence bad, hearing and talking good. For a more nuanced discussion, see our section in the "Language and Communication" theme.