In some ways, "The Wild Iris" is a painful poem. Suffering is front-and-center from the get-go, even though the speaker keeps predicting an end to it. It reminds us of those nurses who always assure you, "This will only hurt for a minute." (Does anybody really believe that?) Still, as we work our way through the poem, the theme of suffering expands in surprising directions, shedding unexpected light on the physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges of being human.
Fear is the root cause of much suffering. In the poem, the speaker argues that the fear associated with helplessness (being unable to speak) is a special kind of torture.
Creativity is not possible without suffering (hence the expression "suffering artist"). In the poem, the speaker must suffer in order to find a new voice, which symbolizes creativity.
Answers don't come easily in Louise Glück's poems, and "The Wild Iris" is no exception. The poet makes us work for our meanings. So we probably shouldn't be surprised that the poem refuses to come right out and say where it stands on the issue of life after death. Still, there are some tantalizing clues. What looks like death for a wild iris just leads to new life. So maybe what looks like death for human beings is not the end either.
"The Wild Iris" makes a strong case for the immortality of the human soul.
"The Wild Iris" expresses a desire for immortality but ultimately rejects the idea as wishful thinking.
Why is the speaker in "The Wild Iris" so concerned about "voice"? Well, speaking is a creative act, a way to express our innermost thoughts and feelings. Speaking is also a social act that allows us to form relationships. Some people even speak to deities, through prayer. For these reasons, it makes sense to think of speech as emanating from a source of inner power. Like a great fountain, our thoughts and feelings well up from this deep source and rise into an outpouring of spoken words. Or at least they do in this poem.
In "The Wild Iris," the ability to speak represents an individual's personal identity. So if you take away a person's voice, you take away their very self.
"The Wild Iris" suggests that the inability to express one's true thoughts and feelings can cause psychological damage, leading to a kind of emotional death. Yikes.
Like it or not, life is change. You are no longer the same person you were one minute ago. By default, we are changed by time and by the world. We are also changed by the choices we make (which is why Shmoop is feeling remorseful about that second hot fudge sundae). "The Wild Iris" lends itself to many interpretations, but the poem seems particularly interested in two types of transformation: emotional and spiritual. Both involve suffering, but both arguably lead to freedom.
"The Wild Iris" suggests that suffering can lead to emotional growth because painful experiences sometimes strengthen a person's character by breaking old habits and revealing new possibilities.
"The Wild Iris" suggests death is not an end. It's just yet another change we undergo.