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The Wild Iris

The Wild Iris

by Louise Glück

Stanzas 6-7 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 16-17

You who do not remember
passage from the other world

  • It's been pretty clear all along that the speaker has been telling us a story about "death" (remember lines 3 and 4?). And burial is certainly associated with death. But by stanza 5, we started getting hints about some kind of spiritual life after death.
  • Now, line 17 refers to a passage (journey) "from the other world."
  • So what is this "other world"? If the speaker is, in fact, a wild iris, then the other world might be the world of temporary death, as the plant waits, buried in the dark earth, for winter to end and spring to begin so it can pop on out.
  • But, as we noted earlier, even if the speaker is a wild iris, it sure seems to have a lot of human characteristics, such as, you know, consciousness. So it's probably safe to assume that the poet has a point to make about human beings as well as plants.
  • Let's read on to consider how this "passage from the other world" might apply to humans.

Lines 18-20

I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

  • Let's stick with the plant perspective for a moment. One meaning of "oblivion" is "nothingness," which sounds a lot like death. A wild iris plant blooms in the spring, dies back in the fall, rests underground during the winter, and then is reborn, so to speak, the following spring. In this sense, the plant descends into oblivion but returns to life eventually. See? Oblivion ain't so bad.
  • But what does it mean for a plant to speak, to have a voice? Who knows? Let your imagination run wild (like the iris). Maybe the plant expresses itself most fully when it blooms. Maybe the beauty of the blossom is the plant's statement to the world.
  • Again, how does all this apply to people? Human beings live and grow and die, but we don't rise from the grave in the spring (unless, of course, you're an extra in a zombie movie).
  • Many people, however, do believe in spiritual life after death. So maybe the poet is comparing the process of death and renewal that occurs in nature to the human experience of physical death followed by spiritual afterlife. In this sense, "voice" could refer to a person's true spiritual identity.
  • But there are still more ways of unpacking the ideas in this poem. Taken together, the references to "suffering […] consciousness […] and voice" connote emotional struggles that challenge one's identity.
  • Ah. Maybe "oblivion" in the poem stands for the emotional void of depression and despair rather than literal, physical death. From this point of view, the rebirth of the wild iris could represent emotional recovery.
  • So do you feel like your head's about to explode? Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Take a deep breath and dive into the last three lines of the poem.

Lines 21-23

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

  • Whoa, Nellie! Let's back up for a moment. What led to this unexpected whoosh of water? The last thing Shmoop remembers (before this fire hose of a fountain washed everything out of our poor, overheated little brain) was a punctuation mark: the colon at the end of the previous stanza, to be precise. That little colon equates the speaker's newfound "voice" with a fountain bursting forth from "the center of my life."
  • The blue fountain evokes the beautiful blue blossom of a wild iris. But how is the fountain like a voice? Why is it made of "seawater"? What life-giving force can transform a dry, "dead" life into an extravagant fountain of energy? You can explore these questions in our "Symbols, Imagery & Wordplay" and "Themes" sections. But for now, after all our hard work unpacking the poem, let's just revel in the relief of this fountain, grooving to the beauty of blue on blue.
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