The Wild Iris

The first book I finished this summer is Louise Glück’s Pulitzer prize-winning collection of poetry, The Wild Iris.

Now before you judge me for never having read this book before, remember that I’ve been reading as much poetry as I can, whether it’s classic or not. This book definitely falls into classic, and is thus far one of the best orderings of poetry I have read.

Many of the poems are written from the perspective of flowers: lamium, violets, witchgrass, clover, ipomea, lilies. Interspersed are several poems of the same names, “Matins” and “Vespers.” In Catholicism, they refer to early morning prayer and sunset prayer service, respectively. Every poem is a beautiful unfurling of the human condition – ironic that our very humanness is recognized through the voice of flowers. Glück questions the presence of God, the goodness and wisdom of God. Each flower questions what we humans have done with our lives, our opportunities, the way we can think and move and feel and fall in love. I already posted a sample of her work here, but nearly each poem is breathtaking in its simplicity and density. Somehow I think I stumbled on this book at the perfect time in my writing career. Here are two more of my favorite poems.

RETREATING LIGHT

You were like very young children,

always waiting for a story.

And I’d been through it all too many times;

I was tired of telling stories.

So I gave you the pencil and paper.

I gave you pens made of reeds

I had gathered myself, afternoons in the dense meadows.

I told you, write your own story.

After all those years of listening

I thought you’d know

what a story was.

All you could do was weep.

You wanted everything told to you

and nothing thought through yourselves.

Then I realized you couldn’t think

with any real boldness or passion;

you hadn’t had your own lives yet,

your own tragedies.

So I gave you lives, I gave you tragedies,

because apparently tools alone weren’t enough.

You will never know how deeply

it pleases me to see you sitting there

like independent beings,

to see you dreaming by the open window,

holding the pencils I gave you

until the summer morning disappears into writing.

Creation has brought you

great excitement, as I knew it would,

as it does in the beginning.

And I am free to do as I please now,

to attend to other things, in confidence

you have no need of me anymore.

This next poem is perhaps my favorite in the book, perhaps because this is one of the strongest conclusions to a book of poetry that I have enjoye in a long time, or perhaps because these last few weeks have come to be a particularly wonderful time in my life. Enjoy!

THE WHITE LILIES

As a man and woman make

a garden between them like

a bed of stars, here

they linger in the summer evening

and the evening turns

cold with their terror: it

could all end, it is capable

of devastation. All, all

can be lost, through scented air

the narrow columns

uselessly rising, and beyond,

a churning sea of poppies–

Hush, beloved. It doesn’t matter to me

how many summers I live to return:

this one summer we have entered eternity.

I felt your two hands

bury me to release its splendor.

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