The speaker of “The Wild Iris” is exactly that—a wild iris. That is to say, the speaker of Glück’s poem isn’t a human, as we might expect, but rather a plant. The use of such a botanical speaker is unique in the history of poetry, and Glück employs this tactic in many of the verses collected in The Wild Iris, which is the volume where this poem first appeared. Taken as a whole, The Wild Iris features a structure that moves between poems spoken by a gardener in their garden, poems spoken by a mysterious godlike figure, and poems spoken by that garden’s botanical citizens. “The Wild Iris” opens this collection, which makes it the first poem the reader encounters. Because it comes first in the book, the reader may not initially understand that the poem is actually spoken by a wild iris, rather than simply being about a wild iris. This difficulty arises from the fact that, though the speaker is nonhuman, they are nonetheless fully personified. (Hence the use of “they” here, rather than “it.”) Not only do they speak human language, but they also address human readers and discuss a uniquely human fear of death.

Yet despite their human-like qualities, upon closer inspection, the speaker’s account of their own experience of death and rebirth reveals a profoundly nonhuman perspective on the cycle of life. This perspective allows for a renewed understanding of death not as an abrupt end to life, but as part of a cycle that exists in continuity with life. That is, death is merely one stage in a larger process of transformation. The speaker describes this process of transformation to us human readers, who cannot remember our previous passages through the life cycle:

You who do not remember 

passage from the other world 

I tell you I could speak again: whatever 

returns from oblivion returns 

to find a voice.

In these lines (16–20), the speaker seems keen not simply to explain the continuity of the life cycle, but also to reassure us that death is not an absolute end. The wild iris speaks with a knowing serenity that gently urges us toward a quiet acceptance of our own mortality.