"You Go Where You Are Sent": Louise Gluck's The Wild Iris

This week, I'm reading Louise Gluck's The Wild Iris. I'm a little late to this poetry party: the book was first published in 1993 and received that year's Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and people have been recommending Gluck's volume to me for years.

But late is certainly better than never! So far, The Wild Iris is one of those rare collections where every poem is breathtaking. The collection as a whole is tightly woven; each poem is either a) told from the point of view of a flower (or sometimes a patch of clover or bit of seasonal weather), or b) told in the voice of a human speaker as she roams the garden around her house (these poems are all titled "Matins"). Thematically, the poems are preoccupied with God, human happiness, and the inability to accept death as a part of nature. The flower poems, especially, speak to the all-too-human flaws (the desires for immortality, independence, spiritual connection, etc.) that cause the human speaker's unhappiness.

I can't say enough good things about this book, so I'll hold off on further lauding until I've finished it. In the meantime, here's "Scilla," one of my favorites from the collection. I love how sharp the flowers' voice is in this one ("Not I, you idiot"), and the flowers' message ("to be one thing / is to be next to nothing") is so fresh and surprising to me. Gluck does a fantastic job in this book of imagining herself into the shoes (or perhaps into the roots?) of these flowers so that her dramatic monologues, though fanciful in theory, always come off as startlingly, achingly true.


Not I, you idiot, not self, but we, we--waves
of sky blue like
a critique of heaven: why
do you treasure your voice
when to be one thing
is to be next to nothing?
Why do you look up? To hear
an echo like the voice
of god? You are all the same to us,
solitary, standing above us, planning
your silly lives: you go
where you are sent, like all things,
where the wind plants you,
one or another of you forever
looking down and seeing some image
of water, and hearing what? Waves
and over waves, birds singing.

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