Adrienne Rich was born in May of 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland. She is remembered today as one of the leading voices in the second-wave feminist movement, a poet, and essayist. Over her literary carer, she published numerous volumes of poetry and collections of essays. She won the National Book Award in 1974 and in 1997 declined the National Media of Arts in protest of the end of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Rich died in 2012.
Best Adrienne Rich Poems
‘Tonight No Poetry Will Serve’ is the title poem of her final collection, published a year before her death in 2012. This short poem is filled with vibrant images of love and human connection. She explores themes of writing and language, explaining how poetry won’t do justice to the space she’s in and the sights she’s seeing. Sometimes words aren’t enough.
‘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.
‘Planetarium’ was written with the astronomer Caroline Herschel in mind. The poet speaks on Herschel but also alludes to other women who have been forced to feel like monsters. The sky, she says, is full of monsters in the “shape of a woman”. These women stand up against the expectations of society and are demonized for it. Rich goes into how Caroline Herschel spent her life but never got the fame that she deserved.
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.
‘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.
In ‘Amends,’ 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.
Diving into the Wreck
‘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 title poem of the collection for which Rich won the National Book Award for Poetry.
‘Power’ is another of Rich’s most popular poems. It is about Marie Curie, the two-time Nobel Prize-winning scientist. 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.
‘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.
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.