“The Wild Iris” compares human suffering and finding a voice to the growth of the wild iris or any plant or flower that makes a “passage from the other world” underground despite the difficulty of breaking through. In the image of the wild iris, the explosion of color symbolizes new life.
The speaker describes a door which she sees “at the end of [her] suffering” and implores the reader/listener, “Hear me out: that which you call death I remember.” Hearing the “branches of the pine shifting” as “the weak sun flickered over the dry surface” of the earth, this soul is only conscious of being “buried in the dark earth” alive, then feeling “the stiff earth bending a little.” The image of“birds darting in low shrubs” underscores the movement from underground to aboveground and the vantage point of the speaker as she emerges from the earth. As she “returns from oblivion . . . to find a voice,” she sees a “great fountain” with “deep blue shadows on azure seawater” gushing forth, not only as a wild iris appears but also as the voice does when it bursts into song or eloquent speech.
This theme of struggling to find a voice is a consistent one for Glück, who has gone through periods of more than a year without writing but then experienced periods of great productivity. She has described the liberation she felt after realizing that she could not write according to a schedule and would have to wait until the time felt right to her.