Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich Poems

Adrienne Rich was one of the most influential feminist writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, born in May of 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland. A leading voice in the second-wave feminist movement, her collections of poems and essays won numerous awards, including the National Book Award in 1974. She declined the National Medal of Arts in 1997 in protest of the end of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Her first collection, published in 1951, was titled “A Change of World.” Rich passed away in 2012. Read more about Adrienne Rich.

Tonight No Poetry Will Serve

by Adrienne Rich

‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ by Adrienne Rich is a multilayered poem. The poet imbued it with many complex sexual and political innuendoes about power.

Published a year before her death in 2012, 'Tonight No Poetry Will Serve' is often considered Adrienne Rich's finest poem. This title piece from her final collection delves into the complexities of human connection and love through vibrant imagery. Rich explores the limitations of language and writing, suggesting that sometimes words can't fully capture the depth of our experiences. The poem resonates with readers by addressing the ineffable nature of certain emotional states and sights.

Saw you walking barefoot

taking a long look

at the new moon's eyelid

Living in Sin

by Adrienne Rich

‘Living in Sin’ by Adrienne Rich is a deeply evocative poem. In it, the poet depicts a woman’s exceptions and contrasts them with reality.

‘Living in Sin’ describes a woman’s relationship and how reality does not come close to what she hoped it would be. Her world was supposed to be filled with romance and happiness, but that’s not how it turned out. She has to struggle through her routine and the mundane day-in and day-out patterns they move through.

She had thought the studio would keep itself;

no dust upon the furniture of love.

Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,

the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,


by 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.

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.'

I am an instrument in the shape

of a woman trying to translate pulsations

into images for the relief of the body

and the reconstruction of the mind.


by Adrienne Rich

‘Dreamwood’ by Adrienne Rich jumps between the incredible imagination of a child to the wiser outlook of an older woman.

In ‘Dreamwood,’ Rich’s speaker describes poetry. She explains the different parts of her writing desk, its functionality, and how it contains all the elements of a map. The map has something to say about her life. It’s able to depict the pros and cons of every day and her happiness and sadness. The speaker concludes the poem by comparing the structure of the table to thought and poetry.

In the old, scratched, cheap wood of the typing stand

there is a landscape, veined, which only a child can see

or the child’s older self, a poet,

a woman dreaming when she should be typing

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers

by Adrienne Rich

‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ by Adrienne Rich is a memorable poem. The speaker critiques marriage and how it has systematically oppressed women for centuries.

‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ describes a woman’s needlepoint project., the images she’s depicting, and how they relate to her own life. The images on her project of those of tigers moving through a green landscape, vibrant landscape. The unnamed speaker, who is likely Jennifer’s niece or nephew, describes how fearless these creatures are in the face of the men who watch them. While it is not stated explicitly, it is Clea the speaker is trying to compare the tigers and their freedom to the lack of freedom that Jennifer has. The main themes are those of marriage, equal rights, and grief.

Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,

Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.

They do not fear the men beneath the tree;

They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.


by Adrienne Rich

‘Amends’ by Adrienne Rich is a beautiful poem in which the poet depicts the moon. She describes its presence in the sky and the peace it brings to humanity.

The speaker describes moonlight as it moves across the earth. The moon’s light is especially meaningful on the night in question. The light, as a healing and uplifting force, moves through the damaged earth. It touches on the vast piles of waste humankind has discarded and then finally rests on the eyelids of all the sleepers.

Nights like this: on the cold apple-bough

a white star, then another

exlploading out of the bark:

on the ground, moonlight picking at small stones

Diving into the Wreck

by Adrienne Rich

‘Diving into the Wreck’ by Adrienne Rich is an unforgettable poem. It uses diving as a metaphor to describe the fight for equal rights.

‘Diving into the Wreck’ is often considered to be Rich’s most popular poem. The poem uses an extended metaphor that compares the dive to the struggle for equal rights for women. In the first lines, the speaker describes preparing for a deep-sea dive. The poem is filled with powerful symbols and an expression of that struggle. ‘Diving in the Wreck’ is also the collection’s title poem for which Rich won the National Book Award for Poetry.

First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,


by Adrienne Rich

‘Power’ by Adrienne Rich is a memorable poem that focuses on the power of Marie Curie and the impact she made on her field.

‘Power’ is another of Rich’s most popular poems. She wrote it in 1974, in the middle of the second-wave feminist movement. The poem delves into the nature of a woman’s life as a scientist and how that sets her apart from other menaced women. It also alludes to her untimely death from aplastic anemia.

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth

one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old

cure for fever or melancholy a tonic

Peeling Onions

by Adrienne Rich

‘Peeling Onions’ by Adrienne Rich is an introspective poem. In it, the poet uses the metaphor of peeling onions to define her complex thoughts.

‘Peeling Onions’ is a short, moving poem that describes the changing nature of grief. The poet’s speaker describes how her tears now flow without reason. There is no “grief” equal to all her “tears”. These phrases are accompanied by clever images of cooking and the pressure of being watched by cats, dogs, and postal clerks.

her dreams and whimpers

tangled with mine,

sleeping but not asleep

behind the engine drilling

A Mark of Resistance

by Adrienne Rich

‘A Mark of Resistance’ by Adrienne Rich is a poem about individual resistance. The poet voices her solidarity with those who face discrimination from society.

In this powerful poem, the speaker describes the weight she piles onto her own back—that of her intentions. She carries it across “slanting fields” that she can’t save and “from floor that are to come”. She has to carry on, working to create something that has not existed before. It is a “sign,” or taking the title line, a “mark of resistance” to stand up in the face of those who say you can, bear your burdens, and make something new.

Stone by stone I pile

this cairn of my intention

with the noon's weight on my back,

exposed and vulnerable

Explore more poems from Adrienne Rich

Storm Warnings

by Adrienne Rich

‘Storm Warnings’ by Adrienne Rich draws attention to the turbulence brewing, from the perspective of a worried resident.

Adrienne Rich was an American poet known for her free-verse poems and versatility. Her poems are rated highly, and ‘Storm Warnings’ is no different. It is a warning about the impending doom that represents social unrest in troubled regions. She writes brilliantly, and this poem is nothing short of what readers expect from her.

This is our sole defense against the season;

These are the things we have learned to do

Who live in troubled regions.

Twenty-One Love Poems XIII

by Adrienne Rich

‘Twenty-One Love Poems XIII’ by Adrienne Rich is a poem about same-sex relationships and how couples in them experience a new, uncharted love. 

This lovely Adrienne Rich poem explores many of the images and themes she depicts in other, better-known pieces of poetry. Many of her other poems are far better-known and more influential than this one.

The rules break like a thermometer,

quicksilver spills across the charted systems,

we’re out in a country that has no language


by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s ‘Orion’ explores the emotional depths of relationships and the search for self-identity amidst societal pressures.

Adrienne Rich's poem 'Orion' shares common themes found in her other works, such as exploring personal struggles, societal expectations, and the complexities of relationships. Her poetry often delves into introspection, feminism, and the search for self-identity. In the context of American poetry, Rich's poems stand out for their poignant social commentary, challenging patriarchal norms, and advocating for marginalized voices, making her an influential figure in the feminist literary movement.

Far back when I went zig-zagging

through tamarack pastures

you were my genius, you

my cast-iron Viking, my helmed

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ describes a speaker’s inability to express her thoughts in conventional poetic decorum. Rich wrote this piece in 1970.

Two Songs

by Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s ‘Two Songs’ explores the themes of lust, physicality, and pleasure. These poems feature a speaker’s “post coitum” feelings.

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