Adrienne Rich

‘Planetarium’ by Adrienne Rich is a free verse poem elaborating on the triumphs and troubles of female scientists using astronomy-related metaphors. The poem also describes the wonders of the universe from the female astronomer’s perspective, thereby portraying their passion for the universe.

Adrienne Rich

Nationality: American

Adrienne Rich is one of the best-known poets of her generation. Her work is studied in universities around the world.

Notable works include 'Powerand 'Tonight No Poetry Will Serve.' 

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: A woman can and should be allowed to be more than traditionally-prescribed roles

Speaker: A female astronomer and an admirer of Caroline Herschel

Emotions Evoked: Bravery, Excitement, Freedom

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

'Planetarium' by Adrienne Rich tells of women who break out of their traditional roles to the dismay of a patriarchal society.

‘Planetarium’ by Adrienne Rich is a free verse poem celebrating the female astronomers’ community and their awe of the universe. It is also a dedication to Caroline Herschel, who pioneered the involvement of women in the astronomical society.

As expected of a Rich poem, ‘Planetarium’ highlights feminist themes; these themes are artfully woven into the poem using astronomy-related metaphors.


Planetarium’ by Adrienne Rich is a poem lauding female astronomers while telling of the wonders of the universe.

The poem starts with a dedication to Caroline Herschel, a famous female astronomer who, apparently, inspires the speaker. The speaker transitions from praising Herschel’s passion for astronomy to speaking of the loneliness Herschel and other female scientists felt. The speaker, who reveals herself to be a female scientist, informs readers of the source of their loneliness: society.

Using astronomy-related metaphors, the speaker explains that by pursuing their passion for the universe, women like her and Herschel are isolated from society. This is because women studying astronomy defied society’s expectations of women. So, these women were seen as “monsters,” powerful and feared.

The speaker then sets forth a case for female scientists, capturing their passion for the universe. She initially uses a male astronomer’s point of view to show that one’s awe of the universe transcends gender. Finally, the speaker ends with a declaration of her reasons for studying the universe. It simultaneously reads as a promise to never let her passion die.


Planetarium’ by Adrienne Rich is composed of 46 lines written in free verse. The first two lines are italicized because they constitute an epigraph for Caroline Herschel. These lines are blocked and indented. Some other lines in the poem are also indented for stylistic purposes. In addition, some lines (or part of them) are quoted. This may have also been for stylistic purposes. However, line 25 quotes a person, Tycho. Enjambment runs throughout the poem.

Beyond stylistic purposes, the unorthodox structure of the poem reflects its feminist theme of “breaking out of the norm.” Rich does not write ‘Planetarium’ using traditional spacing or compartmentalization rules. This is why the poem is not sectioned into stanzas; it cannot be. At first glance, the poem’s structure is enough to convey Rich’s message.

Literary Devices

  • Soliloquy: This is a prominent literary device in the poem. “Thinking of” in line 1 clarifies that the poem is simply the speaker’s thought. The entire poem, therefore, is the speaker’s thought rendered out loud.
  • Allusion: The poem alludes to two renowned astronomers: Tycho Brahe and Caroline Herschel. It also references the name of Brahe’s observatory and real events like the supernova and the rebuttal of Aristotle’s theories. The poem references Herschel’s work as well; it is the inspiration for the poem.
  • Metaphor: Metaphor is the foundation of the poem. There is hardly any line without a metaphor. Most metaphors used, however, are related to astronomy in one way or the other. This was purposely done to stay on theme. An example of an astronomy-related appears in line 15. “Galaxies of women” in this line refers to the community of female scientists and their isolation from the rest of society.
  • Imagery: Imagery is a by-product of metaphors. The metaphors in the poem enable readers to easily visualize the poem and, more importantly, understand its meaning.
  • Alliteration: Alliteration appears in line 26. The consonant sounds “w” and “s” repeat in this line.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-2

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
astronomer, sister of William; and others.

The opening lines of ‘Planetarium’ form an epigraph. They simultaneously reveal a major theme of the poem, astronomy, and dedicate the poem to the late Caroline Herschel. Caroline Herschel was one the greatest female astronomers. She was known for discovering eight comets and three nebulae.

These lines are italicized to distinguish them (as an epigraph) from the rest of the poem. It is also another way of honoring Caroline Herschel. Furthermore, beginning with the phrase “thinking of” tells readers the speaker is only voicing out their thoughts. In a way, one may regard the poem as a soliloquy.

Lines 3-5

A woman in the shape of a monster   


the skies are full of them

In the next lines of ‘Planetarium,’ the speaker reveals more about Caroline Herschel using a metaphor. The speaker calls her “a monster.” This tells us she was feared and powerful. However, in line 5, the speaker transitions from “thinking” about Herschel to thinking of other women. Line 5 tells readers there were many women like Herschel and using the word “skies” denotes their isolation from society.

One can then tell that these women were isolated because they were powerful and feared. It is no surprise considering the time women like Herschel grew up in, where society placed certain expectations on women, expectations that did not include exploring astronomy. It is not far-fetched that any woman who went contrary to societal norms would be and be seen as a “monster.” Using “skies” reveals Rich’s genius as it allows her to express her thoughts while staying on theme.

Lines 6-8

a woman      ‘in the snow


or measuring the ground with poles’

These lines take readers into Herschel’s routine. Line 6 paints a picture of the female astronomer working in the cold. This tells of Herschel’s tenacity and her passion for astronomy. The “Clocks” in Line 7 may refer to sidereal clocks which are used to measure solar time or atomic clocks which are also useful in astronomy. This is purposely written using the present progressive tense to capture her continuous effort to know the universe.

Lines 9-10

in her 98 years to discover   


These lines tell of Herschel’s most noteworthy discovery. It also tells how long the female astronomer lived.

Lines 11-14

she whom the moon ruled   


riding the polished lenses

Within these lines, the speaker transitions from thinking about Herschel to thinking about other women. Rich, once again, uses astronomy-related terms to stay on the theme while describing, through her speaker, the feelings of awe shared among these women when they studied the universe.

At this point, lines 12 and line 14 reveal the speaker as an astronomer herself who speaks for other female astronomers who, like her, admire Caroline Herschel. Line 11 is a strong indication of how enraptured these women were by astronomy. The speaker also uses the words “levitating” from line 13 and “riding” like line 14 to capture an almost childlike joy these astronomers have when they explore the universe.

Lines 15-18

Galaxies of women, there


in those spaces    of the mind

At this point, the speaker draws focus to their jobs as women and how it is received by society. The speaker also focuses on the community these female astronomers have formed while contrasting that with the loneliness the isolation from society stirs in them. “Galaxies of women” simultaneously represents this community and its isolation from the rest of society, given by the definition of a galaxy.

Line 16 informs readers that this separation is a punishment from society, the women’s “impetuousness” being their disregard for society’s expectations of a woman. Lines 17 and 18, however, tell readers how harsh this punishment is for the women. Even though they have their community, they still feel the “chill” of loneliness.

Lines 19-27

An eye,

          ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’


             ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

These lines depict the wonders of an astronomer’s discoveries and how the astronomer sees them. The astronomer’s perspective given here is Tycho Brahe’s. Tycho Brahe was a male astronomer known to have observed and proven the supernova (indicated by the capitalization of “NOVA”) was a distant body. Brahe observed the nova with his naked eye (as indicated in lines 19 and 20) in his astronomical observatory called the Uraniborg. However, the speaker intentionally calls it “Uranusborg” in line 21 to stay on the astronomical theme. Another probable reason the speaker introduces this wordplay is to draw a connection between William Herschel, Caroline’s brother and equal astronomer, and Tycho Brahe. William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus under a different name.

The speaker did not only draw a connection using wordplay. In these lines, she purposely uses a male astronomer’s perspective to prove that the passion for astronomy, and by extension, many other things, transcends gender and the societal norms surrounding it. By referencing Brahe, especially his sentiments in line 27, the speaker tells readers that she and her band of female scientists can also relate to Brahe’s passion for the universe and so should not be deprived of their right to do so.

Lines 28-29


and seeing is changing

These lines continue describing the wonders of the universe now from the speaker’s perspective. “We” here no longer refers to female astronomers. After referencing Brahe, “we” have come to include all astronomers, regardless of gender. Line 27 alludes to one of Aristotle’s theories that the heavens were unchanging. Brahe proved that certain celestial bodies, like the nova from line 22, could indeed change. This disproved Aristotle’s theory and showed the “changing” nature of the universe, hence line 27.

Lines 30-31

the light that shrivels a mountain   


“The light” from line 28 refers to an astronomical body, most likely a comet. Line 28 captures the terrifying strength of this body, yet line 29 shows its ability to amaze, and not terrify, people who see it.

Lines 32-33

Heartbeat of the pulsar


In these lines, the speaker compares their heartbeat to the throbbing of yet another astronomical body, the “pulsar.” A pulsar is a dense body known for emitting electromagnetic waves, which helps create a vivid picture of the speaker’s nervous excitement. Line 31 corroborates this excitement and cements the speaker’s awe for the bodies of the universe.

Lines 34-35

The radio impulse   


         I am bombarded yet         I stand

These lines describe another exciting sensation the speaker feels, but most importantly, they reveal the place where the speaker feels these sensations, her workplace. Everything described from lines 26 up to these lines was felt here. “Taurus” is a constellation, and line 34 is a culmination of all these sensations and the speaker’s reaction to them. “…yet I stand” shows not only the speaker’s tenacity to remain on her path of exploration but also her joy for all the sensations she feels.

Lines 36-46

I have been standing all my life in the   

direct path of a battery of signals


and the reconstruction of the mind.

In these lines, the speaker directly addresses herself for the first time. Using astronomy-related metaphors, the speaker reveals how much astronomy means to her. Like most scientists, she studies the universe for the love of it. As indicated in lines 44 and 45, she studies it for knowledge and comfort.

The speaker sees the universe as a mystery, the “most untranslatable language,” yet her determination shines through her lifelong efforts to gradually decode this language. This resolve must have been in part fueled by her predecessors, especially Caroline Herschel, hence the reason for this poem. In a way, one can interpret this ending as the speaker’s promise to Herschel to never stop studying the universe, no matter the cost.


When and where was ‘Planetarium’ published?

Planetarium’ was written in 1968 and published in 1971 as part of Rich’s fourth poetry collection, The Will to Change: Poems, 1968-70. Like ‘Planetarium,’ other poems in this collection aimed to advance feminist ideals.

What are the themes in ‘Planetarium’?

The major theme in ‘Planetarium’ is astronomy. The poem describes one’s awe of the universe and its celestial bodies throughout. However, this wonder is majorly told from a female’s point of view. The poem then addresses the passion that female astronomers have for the universe, despite society’s expectations for women not to study astronomy. These issues, therefore, introduce the theme of feminism and the female identity.

Is ‘Planetarium’ a feminist poem?

The poet, Adrienne Rich, identified as a feminist and used most of her works to advance the feminist cause. ‘Planetarium’ was one such work. Therefore, ‘Planetarium’ is a feminist poem.

What inspired ‘Planetarium’?

Much like the speaker, Adrienne Rich was inspired specifically by Caroline Herschel, the first female astronomer. Generally, however, Rich’s desire to redefine the image of a woman in her time inspired her. Adrienne Rich wrote ‘Planetarium’ and many other works hoping to convey the message that women are much more than the traditional roles prescribed to them.

Similar Poetry

If you loved reading ‘Planetarium’ by Adrienne Rich, you can check out these similar poems:

Poetry+ Review Corner


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Adrienne Rich

This is one of Rich's famous poems because of its feminist themes and its exaltation of a famous female astronomer, Caroline Herschel. The poet specifically wrote this poem to redefine the feminine image. This intention comes through very clearly in 'Planetarium.'
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20th Century

This poem can be considered one of the poems to advance the 20th century second-wave feminism movement. This movement started in the 1960s, and 'Planetarium' was written in 1968. In this sense, Rich's poem can be seen as her contribution to the movement.
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This poem is popular among the American audience by reason of the cause it represents, the feminist cause. It is part of the poetry collection Rich wrote during the second-wave feminism movement in America. Like the movement, it advocated for equality and against discrimination. Till today, it remains relevant in the advancement of the feminist cause, especially in America.
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The epigraph at the beginning of the poem is the first indication that 'Planetarium' is a poem celebrating someone. The first few lines reveal this person to be Caroline Herschel. However, towards the end of the poem, the speaker celebrates all women like Herschel and herself, women who have broken out of the traditional norms.
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Rich wrote 'Planetarium' in her attempt to redefıne the feminine identity. In this poem, she makes an argument that the feminine identity can, has always been, and will always be more than the traditional roles of wife, mother, and/or caretaker.
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In this poem, bravery is evident in the women the speaker refers to, those women who are seen as monsters. They are tagged monsters by society because they refuse to be bound by society's expectations. Despite that and their isolation from society, they pursue the very passion that society criticizes them for.
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Excitement is clear towards the end of the poem, where the speaker describes sensations bodies in the universe stir in her. The speaker relates her nervous excitement to the throbbing of a "pulsar" and her wonder to the terrifying ability of a comet to level mountains.
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The entire poem underscores freedom, but this emotion is most evident in the lines "levitating into the night sky/riding the polished lenses." These lines capture the freedom these female astronomers felt as they explored the universe. 'Planetarium' itself is a poem dedicated to the freedom of women from traditional norms and expectations.
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The entire poem focuses on Caroline Herschel, who pioneered women's involvement in astronomy. It also appreciates the "galaxies" of women who followed in her footsteps, despite social consequences. In the end, the speaker even appreciates herself for being part of those women while making a tacit promise to continue exploring her passions.
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While not a focus of the poem, discrimination is a recurring topic. It is the punishment for women who do not follow society's expectations. They are seen as "monsters" and isolated in their own "galaxies."
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Right from the title, one can tell 'Planetarium' is a poem focusing on the universe. In fact, the universe is a running theme throughout the poem; the speaker constantly uses metaphors related to astronomy to convey her message. In the poem, the speaker also makes a point of describing the wonders of the universe from different perspectives.
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Women's Rights

This poem is, at its very core, a piece advocating for women's rights. By comparing the passion of male astronomer Tycho Brahe to that of female astronomers, the speaker in the poem points out that a career such as astronomy and many others, especially in science, should transcend the gender of individuals. The speaker, therefore, makes the argument that women should have the right to choose their career paths without fear of isolation or discrimination.
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Free Verse

Even among free verse poems, Adrienne Rich's poems show a difference. The structure of her poem, though free verse by its features, is unconventional. 'Planetarium' shows a total disregard for word spacing. Also, there are lines grouped together as if they were stanzas and lines separated as though they were single-line stanzas, even though they are linked by the speaker's thought process.
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Anastasia Ifinedo Poetry Expert
Anastasia Ifinedo is an officially published poet. You can find her poems in the anthologies, "Mrs Latimer Had A Fat Cat" by Cozy Cat Press and "The Little is Much" by Earnest Writes Community, among others. A former poet for the Invincible Quill Magazine and a reviewer of poems on several writing platforms, she has helped—and continues to help—many poets like her hone their craft.

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