Rich connects with those who have resisted the attacks on their identity and happily accepted their real self without giving up their inner beliefs. Adrienne Rich belongs to the group which is looked down upon by conventional society. She was happily a “queer” and fought relentlessly to uphold her “queer” existence. This tone of not bowing down is resonant in ‘A Mark of Resistance.’
The poem, ‘A Mark of Resistance’ focuses solely on the mark or sign. The ideas in the poem generate thereafter from this symbol. The poet has made a “cairn” on elevated land. A “cairn” is a mound of rough stones arranged as a memorial, typically on an elevation or skyline. There is a field nearby the cairn. Adrienne thinks that the field will be devastated by floods in the near future but her stones won’t.
The stones which she has arranged in an unorthodox fashion, are like her lesbian identity. The pile of stones is an assertion of her homosexual right. She proclaims her right as well as the right of the homosexual persons in her poetic words.
You can read the full poem here.
The meaning of the poem, ‘A Mark of Resistance’ is not too hard to comprehend. It’s all about the famous term “resistance”. From time immemorial whenever humanity faced some kind of meaningless oppression for their taste, race, or color, they fought back. Some used their arms, some preferred words. They tried to be accepted as they are. They resisted when society told them to be normal. What is normal to society, is something about blindly following some man-made ideals. The poet is against such ruthless killings of individual and unique souls. So, in her poem, she establishes “A pile of stones” through her poetic words as the “mark of resistance”.
Form and Structure
This poem is 16 lines long and has an unconventional structure like other modern poems. The poem doesn’t contain any regular rhyme scheme. But we can’t say that the poem is prosaic. The metrical arrangement in the poem is responsible for the lyrical and rhythmic flow of the lines.
If we scan the poem metrically we can find that the poem is written in iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter respectively. There are certain variations in the poem. Few lines at the end of the poem contain hypermetrical foot except the last one. It is in iambic tetrameter. Lines 1 and 11 of the poem contain an acephalous foot at the beginning. There is a major variation in line number 14. It’s in trochaic tetrameter. Adrienne uses this meter to emphasize her proclamation of solidarity. In this way, the metrical composition of the poem is significant with respect to the theme and idea of the text.
The first literary device used in the poem, ‘A Mark of Resistance’ is a metaphor. Readers can find the metaphor in the title of the poem. Here the mark is not any ordinary mark. It is the mark of “resistance”, a refusal to comply with the conventional norms of the society.
In the second line of the poem, there’s another metaphor. Here Adrienne Rich compares the “cairn” to her solid “intention”. Her intention is not to yield in front of the normative society. The stone made memorial is the symbol of her unconquerable will.
In the third line of the poem, “noon’s weight” is also an instance of metaphor. Here the heat of the sun during noontime is metaphorically compared to weights. She feels the warmth of the sun like some heavy object fastened on her back.
In lines 9 to 12, the poe tpresents two metaphors to the readers; at first, the poetcompares her poetic words to “stones”. Secondly, in reference to the form of her poetry, she says that her poems are “in the shape of nothing/ that has ever existed before.” It also hints to postmodern poetry.
If we move forward in the poem, we can find an important metonym. It is present in this line, “with this work of my hands”. The variety used in the line is, “symbol for the thing symbolized”. Here Adrienne Rich is implicitly referring to her poetry. The next few lines make it clear to the readers.
Stone by stone I pile
from floods that are to come;
In the first seven lines of the poem, ‘A Mark of Resistance’, Adrienne Rich presents the image of the “cairn” to the readers. This is a memorial of the “intention” of the whole queer community. Their aim is not to accept the norms of heterosexual society. The poet, being the mouthpiece of the community, upholds their spirit and will power in the form of the stone made memorial.
While piling the stones she feels the scorching heat of the sun, radiating light at its fullest during noontime. The heat of the sun is a metaphor for the societal pressure that she faces in her life for her identity. She knows that the memorial of resistance is somehow fragile and susceptible to destruction. In her heart, she knows that it is impossible.
The “fields”, a metaphor of conventional beliefs, will be destroyed by the “flood” of her powerful words. In response to society, the poet uses irony in the line, “which I love but cannot save”. We can also treat this line as a plea to society. The poet seems to be saying here, “As I love and respect your (the society’s) beliefs, I wish my orientation will also be accepted in a more humane way.”
can only fasten down
that has ever existed before.
In reference to the “cairn”, the poet, in the next section of ‘A Mark of Resistance’, is of the view that her works won’t be forgotten or removed from the history of mankind. She has painfully assembled her stone-like words to voice her protest, a declaration of not to yield or submit.
Adrienne Rich makes another thing clear here. Apart from the movement of LGBTQ rights, she is also against the conventional mode of writing poetry. Resembling the established diction is like surrendering in front of the ideas of society. The society hasn’t given enough room for them who have only wished to live as they are. So there’s no point to follow any “shape” or decorum which “has ever existed before”.
A pile of stones: an assertion
A mark of resistance, a sign.”
The last four lines of Adrienne Rich’s ‘A Mark of Resistance’ is the most important section of the poem. Here the poet makes it clear to the readers about the meaning of using “A pile of stones” as a symbol of “resistance”.
She uses a philosophical concept in these lines. It is believed that each and every particle is important and significant in nature. There’s nothing insignificant or too small to be left useless. So that the stones which Adrienne piles to form the cairn is important to her. The stones are the little parts of her country, America. Still, these small pieces have a role in the formation of the geography of her country.
Again the poet resorts to a metaphor here. The stones in the poem reflect each member of the LGBTQ community. The cause of the individual right to life and love is simple to comprehend. They aren’t demanding something materialistic. They just want to live in their own way without trespassing anybody’s rights. At last, Adrienne reminds the readers of the memorial to signify that her “resistance” to society will not be halting in the near future. As long as humanity suffers from any kind of oppression, Adrienne will be there as a “mark of resistance, a sign.”
‘A Mark of Resistance’ was first published in August 1957 in a poetry anthology featuring different poets at that time. As we all know Adrienne Rich was a lesbian and belonged to the “Queer” circle, her poetry focuses on the rights of the LGBTQ community. ‘A Mark of Resistance’ is also a specimen of queer literature. Most of her poems deal with the same subject and readers can find her unique poetic protest in each of her poems. An important point to remember here; we shouldn’t group Adrienne only in the canon of LGBTQ Literature. If we read her poems, we can find that the idea of the poet is much broader and objective. She is a poet of those who has faced oppression at any point in their lives.
The same tone and theme of “resistance” are resonant in the following poems. You can refer to these poems to get an idea of how a poet reacts when humanity suffers a backlash from the orthodox society.
- London by William Blake: In this poem, Blake refers to the “Marks of weakness, marks of woe” of the people living in “charter’d” London. The poet presents the reality and people’s suffering in a strong tone of resistance.
- Caged Bird by Maya Angelou: Maya Angelou refers to a caged bird, symbolizing captivity of a human soul in the traditions and conventions of the society. In spite of the bird’s state of captivity, it “sings of freedom.”
- America by Claude McKay: The same voice of resistance is vibrant in this poem. Claude knows the people of America won’t stop hating him but the hate of the people is giving him “strength erect against her hate”; “her” refers to America here.
- If We Must Die by Claude McKay: Like the “A Mark of Resistance” in Adrienne’s poem, in this poem, Claude also voices his protest in a more powerful manner. It doesn’t matter to him if he is pressed to the wall and dying. He must fight back again.