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The poetry of Adrienne Rich

In order to be able to anwer a comprehensive essay on the poetry of Adrienne Rich, be sure that you know each of the following aspects of her work. Make notes on each heading to supplement the work done in class.

– Power and powerlessness
– Relationships, especially marriage, and their breakdown
– Conflict
– The role of women in a patriarchal society
– Art and artistic ambition
– The personal and the political
– Escaping the past
– Language
You must be able to quote to support your analysis of each theme.

What techniques are frequently used in Rich’s poetry? You must be able to identify them (through quotation) and also comment on their function and their effectiveness.

Ensure that you are able to comment on the form / structure of each of Rich’s poems. Why has she chosen to structure a poem in a particular manner? Does the structure reflect the theme? If so, how and why?

Comment on Rich’s style of poetry i.e. confessional, the use of a speaker etc. What effect does her style have on you? Does it appeal to you?

The images in Rich’s poems are unusual, interesting and evocative. Choose at least three images from each poem that you are studying and be sure that you can describe what they depict and why they appeal to you.

Know a little about Rich’s life. You won’t be asked directly about her life story, but it will give you a greater understanding of her work.

Personal Response
Use plenty of ‘I’ sentences in your essay. For example:
– ‘I enjoyed the way Rich writes about a figurative storm as well as an actual one in ‘Storm Warning’.’
– ‘I found ‘Diving into the Wreck’ quite difficult to understand at times.’
– ‘The poem ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ was very appealing to me.’
– ‘I disliked Rich’s negative attitude towards men and the way she portrayed Aunt Jennifer as such a victim.’
Your personal response is personal to you and so cannot be learned from any notes. It must be developed through knowing and understanding each poem. A personal response will be expected from you, even if the question does not explicitly ask for it.

However, the key to doing well on an essay about the poetry of Adrienne Rich, as well as any other essay, is to answer the question that is asked. Summarising the poems or simply writing everything you know about Rich will not benefit your essay.

Exam-style questions on Rich


‘Adrienne Rich explores the twin themes of power and powerlessness in a variety of interesting ways.’

Write a response to the poetry of Adrienne Rich in the light of this statement, supporting your points with suitable reference to the poems on your course.


‘the desire to be heard, – that is the impulse behind writing poems, for me.’ (Adrienne Rich)

Does the poetry of Adrienne Rich speak to you? Write your personal response, referring to the poems of Adrienne Rich that do / do not speak to you.

Sample Question 1

‘Adrienne Rich is a complex but rewarding poet.’

Give your response to this assessment of Rich. Support your point of view by referring to the poems of Rich on your course.

Sample Question 2

‘Adrienne Rich explores the position of women in society in language that is clear and direct.’

Give your response to this assessement of Rich. Support you point of view by referring to the poems of Rich on your course.


Adrienne Rich – some key quotes

When revising Adrienne Rich, here are some of the key quotes that you should know from each poem:

‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’

‘prance across a screen’

‘They do not fear’

‘fingers fluttering through her wool’

‘The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band / Sits heavily’

‘her terrified hands will lie / still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by’

‘prancing, proud and unafraid’

‘The Uncle Speaks in the Drawing Room’

‘standing sullen in the square’

‘talked in bitter tones’

‘held and fingered stones’

‘Certain frailties of glass’

‘Not that missiles will be cast’

‘the keeping of our kind’

‘We stand between the dead glass-blowers / and murmurings of missile-throwers’


‘in the earth deposits’

‘one bottle   amber   perfect   a hundred year old / cure for fever   or melancholy   a tonic / for living on this earth’

‘she must have known she suffered   from radiation sickness’

‘It seems she denied to the end / the source of’ the cataracts on her eyes’

‘denying / her wounds / denying / her wounds   came   from the same source as her power’

‘Storm Warnings’

‘knowing better than the instrument / What winds are walking overhead’

‘walk from window to closed window, watching’

‘a silent core of waiting’

‘this polar realm’

‘Weather abroad / And weather in the heart alike come on / Regardless of prediction.’

‘all the mastery of elements’

‘Time in the hand is not control of time’

‘These are the things that we have learned to do / Who live in troubled regions.’

‘Living In Sin’

‘no dust upon the furniture of love’

‘A plate of peares, / a piano with a Persian shawl’

‘Not that at five each separate stair would write / under the milkman’s tramp’

‘a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own’

‘Meanwhile, he, with a yawn, / sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard’

‘jeered by the minor demons’

‘she awoke sometimes to feel the daylight coming / like a relentless milkman up the stairs.’

‘The Roofwalker’

‘Giants, the roofwalkers, / on a listing deck, the wave / of darkness about to break / on their heads.’

‘The sky / is a torn sail’

‘exposed, larger than life, / and about to break my neck.’

‘Was it worth while to lay – / with infinite exertion – / a roof I can’t live under?’

‘A life I didn’t choose / chose me’

‘I’m naked’

‘Trying to Talk with a Man’

‘Out in this desert we are testing bombs’

‘this condemned scenery’

‘What we’ve had to give up to get here’

‘surrounded by a silence / that sounds like the silence of the place / except that it came with us’

‘Out here I feel more helpless / with you than without you’

‘you look at me like an emergency’

‘your eyes are stars of a different magnitude / they reflect lights that spell out: EXIT’

‘talking of danger / as if it were not ourselves / as if we were testing anything else.’

Adrienne Rich – 6A1

I would like each of you to post a comment here on the poetry by Adrienne Rich that we have studied in class.

Your comment should give your evaluation of Rich’s poetry and should include accurate quotation. Feel free to mention any technique or image used by Rich that you found effective. You may also tell us what poem you enjoyed the most or if there was any poem that you found challenging.

Remember that the goal here is to share our learning and to reflect on what we have learned in class.

Re-read the Responsible Blogging page before you start. And don’t forget to re-read your work before you publish!

I am looking forward to your comments.

Mrs. Meighan