Study Guide

The Wild Iris Immortality

By Louise Glück

Immortality

[…] that which you call death
I remember. (3-4)

Here's our first major clue that death may not be final. "Death is not what you think it is," the speaker seems to say. Wish we could ask a follow-up question, especially since this speaker seems to have first-hand knowledge. Shmoop has always thought death is pretty bad, so we're hoping the speaker is reporting that it's not so bad after all.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth. (13-15)

After the earlier reference to death, it's not surprising to encounter a grave, but something is gravely wrong here (pardon the pun). Continuation of consciousness after death is the very definition of immortality. Great news! But in this case the surviving consciousness appears to be trapped in the grave. Terrible news!

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly […] (11-13)

What exactly is ending: being buried alive, being in a state of fear, being unable to speak? We're good with all of those things putting on the breaks. But how about "being a soul"? Sure hope that's not ending, because if it is, our hopes for life after death are not looking good.

birds darting in low shrubs. (15)

In some traditions, birds are a symbol of the human soul. Thank goodness for symbols. We take this line as the most promising sign yet that the human spirit may survive death. Unless, of course, the birds are just birds, and the speaker is just describing the cyclical experience of perennial plants.

[…] whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice: (18-20)

The opposite of nothing is something, right? So someone who returns from oblivion (the nothingness of death) has to exist in some form. Unlike the wild iris, humans are not reborn each spring. But if the poem is a spiritual allegory, it would seem to suggest that our spirits live on after death. Shmoop is delighted to hear that this new life includes a new voice: we'll need it to shout "Hallelujah!"

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