Study Guide

The Wild Iris Suffering

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In some ways, "The Wild Iris" is a painful poem. Suffering is front-and-center from the get-go, even though the speaker keeps predicting an end to it. It reminds us of those nurses who always assure you, "This will only hurt for a minute." (Does anybody really believe that?) Still, as we work our way through the poem, the theme of suffering expands in surprising directions, shedding unexpected light on the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of being human.

Questions About Suffering

  1. Do you think the suffering of the poem's speaker is more physical or emotional? How can you tell? Do you remember that morbid "would-you-rather" game we all played as kids ("Would you rather eat worms or touch a tarantula?")? Well, if you were given the choice between physical and emotional suffering, which would you choose? Why?
  2. Why do you think the speaker of the poem wants to tell the story of his or her suffering? After you have a painful experience, do you feel like telling someone about it? Why or why not? Do you think it's possible for painful experiences to have positive effects? Why or why not?
  3. Why does the suffering of the poem's speaker come to an end? Why do you think there's a door at the end of the suffering?

Chew on This

Fear is the root cause of much suffering. In the poem, the speaker argues that the fear associated with helplessness (being unable to speak) is a special kind of torture.

Creativity is not possible without suffering (hence the expression "suffering artist"). In the poem, the speaker must suffer in order to find a new voice, which symbolizes creativity.

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