Over and over, starting to wake
I dive back to discover you
still whispering, we go on
streaming through the slow
citylight forest ocean
stirring our body hair
In the title poem, "Diving into the Wreck," surely one of the most beautifulpoems to come out of the women's movement, the explorer--simultaneously male andfemale--achieves something close to a mythic density. The figure is passionate but with anisolation and passion transparent to the universal. The poem is utterly personal but thereis nothing in it which draws away into private life.
The wreck she is diving into, ..
The wreck represents the battered hulk of the sexual definitions of the past, whichRich, as an underwater explorer, must search for evidence of what can be salvaged. Onlythose who have managed to survive the wreck--women isolated from any meaningfulparticipation or voice in forces that led to the disaster--are in a position to write itsepitaph and their own names in new books.
The Black Sheep Dances: Adrienne Rich, "Diving Into …
Let's start out by setting the scene for "Diving into the Wreck." There was a lot going on in the U.S. when this poem was written (in the early 1970s). There was the , the struggle for women's rights, and the echoes of the of the 60s. In many ways, was a major part of that world. She was (and is) a political poet. She was angry about the war, and she was also a strong feminist voice. Rich wasn't shy about connecting her work as a poet with her feelings about social justice.
In fact, there's a story about this poem that we think says a lot about Rich, her views, and her career. When this poem appeared in 1973, it was part of a book with the same title: . In 1974, that book won the , a big deal for a poet. But Rich refused the award as an individual. Instead, she accepted it in the name of all unknown women writers. That was a big public gesture at a turbulent time. On the one hand, this story reminds us that Rich herself is important and influential. She's certainly won just about every poetry prize around. At the same time, she keeps a focus on the outside world, and on her responsibilities as a person and a writer.
While it's important to know the context, we don't think it'll give you the magic key to this poem. It can be helpful to know what was going on in the writer's life, but a great poem is usually about way more than just the author and her life at a particular moment. Think of these facts like a few ingredients in a delicious stew. They are certainly going to change the taste, but they don't determine everything about the finished product.
This is true about personal details from the Rich's life, too. For example, Rich's marriage collapsed a few years before she wrote this poem. Sadly, her ex-husband also committed suicide not long after that. We'd be foolish to think that those events wouldn't affect this poem. Again, they're just one ingredient. There are other flavors in here that we can't even recognize. Bottom line, this is a wide-ranging, personal, mysterious poem. We can't hope to trace all its images and ideas back to a personal tragedy or a particular political issue. The poem goes beyond any single event.
Adrienne Rich, "Diving Into the Wreck", poem and analysis
She came "to explore the wreck." And what is the wreckage; is it of marriage,or of sex, or of the selfhood within each? Is it the female body, her own?