Louise Glück's Wild Iris

This book, the wild iris by Louise Gluck, I took it from the library because it was on the prominent shelf where they leave a selection of books. I took it without knowing the author and without knowing that she was a Nobel Prize winner. After two readings I liked it a lot, although to really enjoy it I think I should give it a few more.

The edition and the author (Louise Glück)

Bilingual edition, which is always appreciated, from the Poetry Viewer Collection Poetry Viewer Collection of the publisher book viewer, but I miss that it has notes. With translation by Andrés Catalán.

Louise Glück, a poet born in New York in 1943, was awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature and The Wild Iris is supposed to be her most ambitious poetic work. She was a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 1993.

When I started reading it, it reminded me of the four quartets by T.S. Eliot. Not because of the style of the poems, which is not similar. Glück is much clearer, cleaner and more concise than Eliot whose poems are longer, more convoluted and complex. But the elements they use are similar.

Those English-style gardens. The reference to the plants, the door to the garden and many other elements that appear in the two collections of poems.

If you like poetry check out our review of Ithaca of Cavafis.

Book structure.

The collection of poems is narrated in 3 narrative voices. Sometimes a person speaks to us, in others God speaks to us and others, it seems that the narration comes from the plants and elements of the garden. And all these voices interact with each other. Plants speak to people and to God, people above all with God, and about their desires, their problems and God, above all, complains about the human being.

The rereading of the collection of poems has given me back an internal narration that I had not seen the first time. A covert conversation between the narrative voices. One of the person poems talks about violets, and the next poem is about violets, speaking, personified, giving their plant point of view on some particular subject.

Of the 53 poems in the book, 16 are narrated by plants, 23 by people, and 14 by God. I've been looking at the order in which each one appeared, to see if it followed a pattern, but no. They don't seem to follow any set order. A pity, I would have enjoyed such a discovery.

Poems The Wild Iris

It deals with recurring themes: God, death, loneliness,...

The book begins with the poem El iris Salvaje where an iris, a lily, speaks to us and explains its birth.

Es terrible sobrevivir
como una conciencia
enterrada en la tierra oscura

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

I especially like poems in which the voice of the narrator is God. Because he shows him as a God, haughty, who pities men, who do not understand anything, who are not capable of doing anything right. They have lost their soul.

In Harvest, he talks about death.

Me duele pensaros en pasado…

Ah, pequeñuelos, qué poco sutiles sois:
es ese al mismo tiempo el don y la tortura.

cuántas veces debo destruir mi propia creación
para enseñaros
que vuestro castigo es este:

con un solo gesto os entregué a la vez el tiempo y el paraíso.

It grieves me to think of you in the past–

Ah, little ones, how unsubtle you are:
it si at once the gift and the torment.

how many times must I destroy my own creation
to teach you
this is your punishment:

with one gesture I established you
in time and in paradise.


entre vosotros, entre toda vuestra especie, para que yo
pueda reconoceros, igual que el azul intenso
caracteriza a la escila silvestre, el blanco
a la violeta.

between you, among all your kind, for me
to know you, as deep blue
marks the wild scilla, white
the wood violet.


mientras juntas tus grandes manos,
a ti que con toda tu grandeza lo ignoras
todo de la naturaleza del alma,
que es la de no morir nunca: pobre dios tiste,
o nunca has tenido una
o no la perdiste nunca.

clasping your great hands,
in all your greatness knowing
nothing of the soul’s nature,
which is never to die: poor sad god,
either your never have one
or your necer lose one.

On a certain moment. When you are reading comfortably, a couple of lines change the whole meaning of the poem. They nourish it with life and an unexpected reflection. A clear example, which will not be surprising taken out of context is:

¿o acaso la cuestión fue siempre
continuar sin ninguna señal?

Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

Resources

  • In this link You can listen in English to the poem that opens the volume and gives the book its title, El iris Salvaje.

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