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Best Famous Adrienne Rich Poems

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Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Diving into the Wreck

 First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this not like Cousteau with his assiduous team aboard the sun-flooded schooner but here alone.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there hanging innocently close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for, we who have used it.
Otherwise it is a piece of maritime floss some sundry equipment.
I go down.
Rung after rung and still the oxygen immerses me the blue light the clear atoms of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me, I crawl like an insect down the ladder and there is no one to tell me when the ocean will begin.
First the air is blue and then it is bluer and then green and then black I am blacking out and yet my mask is powerful it pumps my blood with power the sea is another story the sea is not a question of power I have to learn alone to turn my body without force in the deep element.
And now: it is easy to forget what I came for among so many who have always lived here swaying their crenellated fans between the reefs and besides you breathe differently down here.
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed the thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck the thing itself and not the myth the drowned face always staring toward the sun the evidence of damage worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty the ribs of the disaster curving their assertion among the tentative haunters.
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently about the wreck we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes whose breasts still bear the stress whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies obscurely inside barrels half-wedged and left to rot we are the half-destroyed instruments that once held to a course the water-eaten log the fouled compass We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to this scene carrying a knife, a camera a book of myths in which our names do not appear.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Aunt Jennifers Tigers

 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.
Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through her wool Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.
When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Living In Sin

 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, a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat stalking the picturesque amusing mouse had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe under the milkman's tramp; that morning light so coldly would delineate the scraps of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles; that on the kitchen shelf amoong the saucers a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own-- envoy from some village in the moldings.
.
.
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn, sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard, declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror, rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes; while she, jeered by the minor demons, pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found a towel to dust the table-top, and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again, though not so wholly but throughout the night she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming like a relentless milkman up the stairs.


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Written by Adrienne Rich | |

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

 My swirling wants.
Your frozen lips.
The grammar turned and attacked me.
Themes, written under duress.
Emptiness of the notations.
They gave me a drug that slowed the healing of wounds.
I want you to see this before I leave: the experience of repetition as death the failure of criticism to locate the pain the poster in the bus that said: my bleeding is under control A red plant in a cemetary of plastic wreaths.
A last attempt: the language is a dialect called metaphor.
These images go unglossed: hair, glacier, flashlight.
When I think of a landscape I am thinking of a time.
When I talk of taking a trip I mean forever.
I could say: those mountains have a meaning but further than that I could not say.
To do something very common, in my own way.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Prospective Immigrants Please Note

 Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly and you must look back and let them happen.
If you do not go through it is possible to live worthily to maintain your attitudes to hold your position to die bravely but much will blind you, much will evade you, at what cost who knows? The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

From an Atlas of the Difficult World

 I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour.
I know you are reading this poem standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem in a room where too much has happened for you to bear where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed and the open valise speaks of flight but you cannot leave yet.
I know you are reading this poem as the underground train loses momentum and before running up the stairs toward a new kind of love your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out, count themselves out, at too early an age.
I know you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language guessing at some words while others keep you reading and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between bitterness and hope turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read there where you have landed, stripped as you are.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Power

 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
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.
Today I was reading about Marie Curie: she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness her body bombarded for years by the element she had purified It seems she denied to the end the source of the cataracts on her eyes the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil She died a famous woman denying her wounds denying her wounds came from the same source as her power.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Integrity

 the quality of being complete; unbroken condition; entirety
~ Webster
A wild patience has taken me this far

as if I had to bring to shore
a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor
old sweaters, nets, spray-mottled books
tossed in the prow
some kind of sun burning my shoulder-blades.
Splashing the oarlocks.
Burning through.
Your fore-arms can get scalded, licked with pain in a sun blotted like unspoken anger behind a casual mist.
The length of daylight this far north, in this forty-ninth year of my life is critical.
The light is critical: of me, of this long-dreamed, involuntary landing on the arm of an inland sea.
The glitter of the shoal depleting into shadow I recognize: the stand of pines violet-black really, green in the old postcard but really I have nothing but myself to go by; nothing stands in the realm of pure necessity except what my hands can hold.
Nothing but myself?.
.
.
.
My selves.
After so long, this answer.
As if I had always known I steer the boat in, simply.
The motor dying on the pebbles cicadas taking up the hum dropped in the silence.
Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius to spin and weave in the same action from her own body, anywhere -- even from a broken web.
The cabin in the stand of pines is still for sale.
I know this.
Know the print of the last foot, the hand that slammed and locked the door, then stopped to wreathe the rain-smashed clematis back on the trellis for no one's sake except its own.
I know the chart nailed to the wallboards the icy kettle squatting on the burner.
The hands that hammered in those nails emptied that kettle one last time are these two hands and they have caught the baby leaping from between trembling legs and they have worked the vacuum aspirator and stroked the sweated temples and steered the boat there through this hot misblotted sunlight, critical light imperceptibly scalding the skin these hands will also salve.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Our Whole Life

 Our whole life a translation 
the permissible fibs

and now a knot of lies 
eating at itself to get undone

Words bitten thru words

~~

meanings burnt-off like paint 
under the blowtorch

All those dead letters 
rendered into the oppressor's language

Trying to tell the doctor where it hurts 
like the Algerian 
who waled form his village, burning

his whole body a could of pain 
and there are no words for this

except himself


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Miracle Ice Cream

 Miracle's truck comes down the little avenue,
Scott Joplin ragtime strewn behind it like pearls,
and, yes, you can feel happy
with one piece of your heart.
Take what's still given: in a room's rich shadow a woman's breasts swinging lightly as she bends.
Early now the pearl of dusk dissolves.
Late, you sit weighing the evening news, fast-food miracles, ghostly revolutions, the rest of your heart.


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

In Those Years

 In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to

But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and pinions drove
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Burning Oneself Out

 We can look into the stove tonight
as into a mirror, yes, 

the serrated log, the yellow-blue gaseous core 

the crimson-flittered grey ash, yes.
I know inside my eyelids and underneath my skin Time takes hold of us like a draft upward, drawing at the heats in the belly, in the brain You told me of setting your hand into the print of a long-dead Indian and for a moment, I knew that hand, that print, that rock, the sun producing powerful dreams A word can do this or, as tonight, the mirror of the fire of my mind, burning as if it could go on burning itself, burning down feeding on everything till there is nothing in life that has not fed that fire


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

Victory

 Something spreading underground won't speak to us
under skin won't declare itself
not all life-forms want dialogue with the
machine-gods in their drama hogging down
the deep bush clear-cutting refugees
from ancient or transient villages into
our opportunistic fervor to search
 crazily for a host a lifeboat

Suddenly instead of art we're eyeing
organisms traced and stained on cathedral transparencies
cruel blues embroidered purples succinct yellows
a beautiful tumor

•

I guess you're not alone I fear you're alone
There's, of course, poetry:
awful bridge rising over naked air: I first
took it as just a continuation of the road: 
"a masterpiece of engineering
praised, etc.
" then on the radio: "incline too steep for ease of, etc.
" Drove it nonetheless because I had to this being how— So this is how I find you: alive and more • As if (how many conditionals must we suffer?) I'm driving to your side —an intimate collusion— packed in the trunk my bag of foils for fencing with pain glasses of varying spectrum for sun or fog or sun-struck rain or bitterest night my sack of hidden poetries, old glue shredding from their spines my time exposure of the Leonids over Joshua Tree As if we're going to win this O because • If you have a sister I am not she nor your mother nor you my daughter nor are we lovers or any kind of couple except in the intensive care of poetry and death's master plan architecture-in-progress draft elevations of a black-and-white mosaic dome the master left on your doorstep with a white card in black calligraphy: Make what you will of this As if leaving purple roses • If (how many conditionals must we suffer?) I tell you a letter from the master is lying on my own doorstep glued there with leaves and rain and I haven't bent to it yet if I tell you I surmise he writes differently to me: Do as you will, you have had your life many have not signing it in his olden script: Meister aus Deutschland • In coldest Europe end of that war frozen domes iron railings frozen stoves lit in the streets memory banks of cold the Nike of Samothrace on a staircase wings in blazing backdraft said to me : : to everyone she met Displaced, amputated never discount me Victory indented in disaster striding at the head of stairs for Tory Dent


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

For the Dead

 I dreamed I called you on the telephone
to say: Be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer

The waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself

I have always wondered about the left-over
energy, the way water goes rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped

or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting long after midnight


Written by Adrienne Rich | |

In A Classroom

 Talking of poetry, hauling the books
arm-full to the table where the heads
bend or gaze upward, listening, reading aloud,
talking of consonants, elision,
caught in the how, oblivious of why:
I look in your face, Jude,
neither frowning nor nodding,
opaque in the slant of dust-motes over the table:
a presence like a stone, if a stone were thinking
What I cannot say, is me.
For that I came.