Date of Completion

January 1982


Literature, American




Adrienne Rich voices a contemporary woman artist's odyssey. Developing through five stages, her portrait of women's evolving selfhood is informed by images of home and journey.^ Her first two volumes, A Change of World (1951) and The Diamond Cutters (1955), comprise her first stage, enclosure. Home seems to offer refuge from threats of change and disorder, protection for a vulnerable self and preservation of social values. Similarly, the formal controls of rhyme and meter become means of ordering poetry. Accordingly, Rich prizes objectivity and craft, choosing the diamond cutter as a metaphor of the poet.^ In stage two, entrapment, primarily in Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963) and Necessities of Life (1966), home becomes a trap. Despair permeates these poems as the poet chafes within the confines of her home and limited life. Images of death, autumn, cages and traps predominate. The central poem of this period, "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law," alleges that history and myth contribute to women's entrapment. As the title suggests, the stasis of the still photograph informs the imagery and the structure of these poems.^ In poems of the third stage--escape--from Leaflets (1969), The Will to Change (1971), and Diving into the Wreck (1973), Rich turns from the private to the public world. In fiery rhetoric she rages at an embattled, self-destructive society ("The Phenomenology of Anger"). Recognizing their anger, heroines prepare to escape from limiting homes. Her "will to change" leads Rich to use the kinetic image of film (as in "Shooting Script").^ The fourth stage, journey, includes poems from Diving into the Wreck and Poems (1975). Here, heroines journey beyond the confines of home to explore oceans, discover comets and design cities on the moon. Questing adventurers eager to test themselves through exploration and new experience, these heroines take risks in exploring the unknown, both in the extreme environments of jungle, desert, ocean, and in their own minds.^ The journey culminates in return, the fifth stage, in The Dream of a Common Language (1978) and A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far (1981). Rich strives to speak of women's shared experiences in a "common language." Images of circles, wholeness, dialogue describe her attempts to synthesize disparate parts of the self, to reconcile the polarities of "home and wanderer." ^