The Wild Iris – Louise Gluck – Analysis

A week or so ago the poet Louise Glück became the first American woman to win the Nobel prize for literature in 27 years, cited for “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.

Glück is the 16th woman to win the Nobel, and the first American woman since Toni Morrison took the prize in 1993. The American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was a surprise winner in 2016.

One of America’s leading poets, the 77-year-old writer has also won the Pulitzer prize and the National Book Award, tackling themes including childhood and family life, often reworking Greek and Roman myths.

The Wild Iris’ by Louise Glück is the title poem of her 1992 collection. This volume follows a specific sequence, poem to poem, describing the poet’s garden. In this piece, she considers the human soul, immortality associated with rebirth, and the commonalities between all life no matter how that life is manifested. 

Looking at the text …

The Wild Iris
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
Louise Gluck (1943 –

The iris is wild as though it has a natural uncultivated presence.

The door is death and going through the door ends suffering and someone has gone through the door. It is not unreasonable to assume a person has died. But in the second stanza we see that the person wants to talk about ‘death’ – what you call death – after ‘death’ has actually taken place.

The next two stanzas change thoughts from personal death to the death of an iris. The dead iris is buried in the earth. However, the dead iris is not dead but has become a consciousness. This consciousness is ‘terrible’. The question is left for the reader to ponder meaning. Maybe it is terrible because it wants to become. Equally the reader can entertain the thought that all death might become latent consciousness.

Then it is over. That horrible time of the consciousness not being able to speak – not able to become living and have a voice and meaning. And we see the stiff earth bending a little, as though the iris has started to break through the earth.

Then the voice beyond ‘death’ speaks again to tell us that all re-birth seeks a voice.

In the last stanza the voice of the blue iris coming to life is described in dramatic terms. The voice of the iris in all its splendor is a great fountain. The whole purpose of the iris is to flower in glory.

While the speaker is talking about a flower, there are obvious implications for humanity, and the human soul. What are we meant to become? And is life a continual cycle of re-birth? And are we naturally beautiful?

Louise Gluck on Wikipedia

Easter Sunday Sunrise

Easter Sunday Sunrise

not just another day
another day of the same
of the no touch of distancing
of not being able to reach out in the community
of confinement to self
of being centered on the inside
not just another day
no!

this day is different
this day is the one day
the one day that opens into every day
the lifeline to eternal tomorrows
as our own tomorrow ending
is contemplated

Richard Scutter

Celebrate this special day with friends and family!

The Orange Tree – John Shaw Neilsen – Analysis

The Orange Tree

The young girl stood beside me. I
Saw not what her young eyes could see:
A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, of east or west?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, born to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

Listen! the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound: it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Does he, I said, so fear the Spring
Ere the white sap too far can climb?
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

Listen! the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call,
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, a waste of love
Imperishably old in pain,
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave,
The last word of a little child?

Silence! the young girl said. Oh why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening like the Orange Tree.

John Shaw Neilson 1919

S1 … The young girl starts a conversation with a bystander. She sees (or senses) a ‘light’ in the Orange Tree; but not so the bystander (or the poet).

S2-3 … The bystander or poet then makes enquiry on the nature of the ‘light’ expressing his thoughts on that nature in poetic terms. All his energy is on his creative thoughts. He alludes to a boy and to love.

S4 … The young girl takes no notice of his poetic rapture instructing him to ‘listen’. It is almost like a sound in the Orange Tree.

S5-6 … The bystander goes into more poetic fantasy on the possible nature of the ‘light’. Again he equates his thoughts to that of a boy.

S7 … The young girl is now irritated by the hapless talk from the bystander. She instructs him emphatically to listen!

S8-9 … Unfortunately the bystander poet takes no notice and continues his poetic expression trying to pry out the nature of her experience in his creative words rather than try to experience the ‘light’ for himself.

S10 … The young girl has had enough of his hapless weary talk. The communication with the bystander poet has ended. She is now at one with the Orange Tree sharing totally with the Tree; and perhaps at one with the natural environment. And the poet is left none the wiser.

This is one of the most known poems of John Shaw Neilsen and perhaps one of his most important poems. Every poet, writer and especially those steeped in analysis should read these words. Analysing experience detracts from the experiencing and may, as in the case above, detract from the experience of another.

And perhaps The Orange Tree can be equated to Life and ‘light’ to beauty. Life must be experienced yourself! You must listen to understand; to be in tune with life rather than letting your own fancies distract.

I hope that my analysis has not stopped enjoyment of the poem!

One Art – Elizabeth Bishop – Analysis

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979)

This poem is a villanelle consisting of five tercets rhyming ‘aba’ and a quatrain of rhyming ‘abaa’ Traditionally the lines are iambic pentameter.

The title One Art.

The title cannot be understood until reading the poem. If the way life to be lived is defined as the ‘The Art of Living’ and if this can be subdivided into countless components such as ‘The Art of Working’, ‘The Art of Communication’, etc. then perhaps one such component could be defined by ‘The Art of Losing’ and this is what life is all about and so too this poem – ‘One Art’ one very important art!

Looking at each stanza –

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Life can be regarded as a continual disappearance game as we lose things all the time – so this must be expected – it’s life! A villanelle as many repetitive lines so very appropriate to the nature of loss.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

We mislay things often and find then quickly hopefully and quite often these are things we use all the time like keys. Annoying and time consuming events that are just part of everyday life and not hard to master!

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

You meet many people visit many places and you lose them as they fade from current life. The question is – are they still latent in your life story. Perhaps of more importance to your thoughts are the places and people you have always been meaning to visit. This is a far different kind of loss because it engenders failure.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

No we start talking of those things of great value to who we are. Items of personal significance and places that have been are home through the years. We lose them as we move on but do not forget their significance or do we.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Then geography and countries and cities are condemned to loss. More so of course as you age and are confined to place after many years of experiencing travel and life in different countries. Elizabeth Bishop lived in Brazil for 15 years before her return to Massachusetts. Maybe not a disaster in that happy memories instils warmth to current life.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Here we end with the greatest loss perhaps – that of a close loved one; whether a partner or family member. And (Write it!) says with such emphatic voice that ‘losing’ is so hard.

This poem is the ‘Art of Losing’ and quite different from ‘The Art of forgetting’.

Elizabeth Bishop on Wikipedia

And an excellent analysis of this poem is on this Site

The Express – Stephen Spender – Commentary

The Express

After the first powerful, plain manifesto
The black statement of pistons, without more fuss
But gliding like a queen, she leaves the station.
Without bowing and with restrained unconcern
She passes the houses which humbly crowd outside,
The gasworks, and at last the heavy page
Of death, printed by gravestones in the cemetery.
Beyond the town, there lies the open country
Where, gathering speed, she acquires mystery,
The luminous self-possession of ships on ocean.

It is now she begins to sing — at first quite low
Then loud, and at last with a jazzy madness —
The song of her whistle screaming at curves,
Of deafening tunnels, brakes, innumerable bolts.
And always light, aerial, underneath,

Retreats the elate metre of her wheels.
Streaming through metal landscapes on her lines,
She plunges new eras of white happiness,
Where speed throws up strange shapes, broad curves
And parallels clean like trajectories from guns.

At last, further than Edinburgh or Rome,
Beyond the crest of the world, she reaches night
Where only a low stream-line brightness
Of phosphorus on the tossing hills is light.
Ah, like a comet through flame, she moves entranced,

Wrapt in her music no bird song, no, nor bough
Breaking with honey buds, shall ever equal.

Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995)

S1 … manifesto – a declaration, a platform – fitting for this poem
She is a queen gliding slowly as movement starts without fuss or ceremony she leaves the station … as passengers we all know that sensation as the train starts to move … passing the gasworks reminds me of taking the train from Waterloo to the country, there was always that prominent feature … the heavy page of death printed by gravestones … another memory of the journey and death seen as a heavy page is so appropriate as a metaphor considering the gravestone inscriptions … and beyond the town there is the mystery of the beyond, especially relevant for those taking the journey for the first time … she is now a ship on the ocean of discovery as she gathers speed and she starts to know herself (self-possession … a growing in confidence)

Do you think the change of metaphor adds or detracts?

S2 … fewer lines, S1 was the slow start needing more lines … she is now a jazzy singer as she speeds along carefree with all the noises of her motion as she negotiates curves and tunnels and applies her whistle … (tis but the freedom of unrestrained youth)

S3 … she knows her way … where she is going is pre-determined (but perhaps not so for all of us who journey without such direction) … and she is happy as she plunges new areas of white happiness … and she moves like being fired from a gun … (well I guess we are all happy when fully focused and speeding along towards our goals)

S4 … this Express train is going some distance! … and as night comes you can see her disappearing in the fading light like a comet through the hills and emotionally entranced (an interesting state of mind for the ending of her journey … she knows where she is going in the dark … beyond the crest of the world)

S5 … and again ending in song … a song that is totally hers – beyond nature her creation and she appears to be in some state of ecstasy … (well what a way to end in such happiness as her journey perhaps continues to unknown places)

The glorification of the peronified train as it makes its journey … a symbol of modern travel and industrial achievement and perhaps that of life too from a slow beginning to a happy end … if you stay on the tracks of course!

Here is a link to Stephen Spender on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Spender