Give your personal estimation of the poetry of Adrienne Rich



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Give your personal estimation of the poetry of Adrienne Rich

Support your point of view by reference to the poems of Rich on your course.





This is an excellent question focused introduction. The combination of personal response with clear reasons for admiring Rich’s poetry.
I was intrigued by Adrienne Rich’s poetry. It is challenging, thought-provoking and unique. Many of her poems, such as ‘Trying to talk With a Man’, ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ and ‘The Roofwalker’ are figurative and I admired the poet’s ability to use metaphor in an inventive and original way. Rich’s use of language is always very controlled. Her ability to manipulate and control language to create powerful, memorable and at time cinematic imagery means her poetry can be enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level.


A clear topic sentence that provides direction is very important.

Thematically, her work is never less than engaging. Rich is a feminist writer, and, like many of my classmates, hearing this made me approach her work with very negative preconceptions. However, those preconceptions were based on ignorance, and I am very happy to say that reading her work has educated me. Reading poems like ’Power’ and ’The Roofwalker’ has allowed me to develop an understanding of the politics of feminism and this is an aspect of Rich’s work I thoroughly enjoyed. Probably the most appealing aspect of this poet’s work, however, is her honesty when dealing with difficult personal issues. Poems like ‘Living in Sin’ are reflective and wry, and ‘From a Survivor’ and ‘Trying to Talk With a Man’, written in the aftermath of Alfred Conrad’s suicide, are intensely moving and mature. What is my estimation of Adrienne Rich’s work? I think her poetry is fascinating thematically and her use of language is technically brilliant.




Once again there is a very clear topic sentence. This provides the paragraph with clear direction.




The paragraph provides makes good use of quotation. Quotation is often most effective when built into the fabric of the sentence.

Much of Adrienne Rich’s poetry is autobiographical. ‘Living in Sin’, a brilliantly observant and reflective poem, sees the poet looking back at the young idealistic woman she used to be. She remembers how ‘She had thought the studio would keep itself | no dust upon the furniture of love’. I think the poet is clearly amazed at her youthful naiveté. She remembers living in the cold water apartment and thinking it ‘half-heresy, to wish the taps less vocal, | The panes relieved of grime.’ She captures the universal desire to believe in the power of love and this helped me to relate to the poem. I believe anybody who has ever experienced the pain of the break-up of a relationship can relate to the poet at the end of the poem when she talks about how ‘she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming | like a relentless milkman up the stairs.’ I loved this ending to the poem, and found it refreshing that she was able to look back on a painful memory with humour and insight.
The maturity obvious in ’Living in Sin’ is also apparent in this poet’s two most fascinating poems, ’From a Survivor’ and ’Trying to Talk with a Man’. These poems deal with the poet’s feelings following the suicide of her former husband, Alfred Conrad. Their honesty is compelling. The idealism of youth is again referred to in ’From a Survivor’ when the poet says “The pact we made was the ordinary pact of men and women in those days.” She loved her husband when she married him, but time and reflection has made her realise “we didn’t know / the race had failures of that order / and that we were going to share them.” This is a very moving and plaintive expression of the poet’s feelings. In ’Trying to Talk With a Man’, I learned her marriage had been troubled for a long time, and she felt “an acute angle of understanding / moving itself like a locus of the sun into this condemned scenery.” She talks of looking into her husband’s eyes and feeling “your dry eyes are stars of a different magnitude / They reflect lights that spell out: Exit.” I was amazed by the directness and the maturity of these lines. The fact that she can look back on the end of a relationship with such a clear eye is an aspect of Rich’s poetry that intrigued me. That is particularly true when you read ’From a Survivor’ and realise that Conrad is “wastefully dead”, having taken his own life. Rich describes the “leap we talked too late of making”, and how making that leap has meant that her new life is “a succession of brief amazing movements.” The brilliance with which the poet deals with such powerful emotions and complex relationships is an aspect of Rich’s work that appealed to me.

The final sentence of this paragraph works very well. Notice how it compliments the paragraph’s topic sentence. The best paragraphs work in this fashion.

That complexity of thought is an aspect of Rich’s ’political’ poems that I also found intriguing. The poem ’Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’ illustrates the fact that Rich had a powerful awareness of her identity as a woman and of the position of women in society from an early age. That poem displays an acute sense of injustice at the role conventional society forced upon women like her Aunt. Jennifer is an immensely skilled women, whose ‘fingers fluttering through her wool’ draw the poet’s eye. In a remarkably effective use of metaphor, something which characterises Rich’s poetry, the poet notes how ‘The massive weight of uncle’s wedding band / Sits heavily on Aunt Jennifer’s hand.’ Clearly the poet is interested in how women, symbolised by Aunt Jennifer, have been suppressed, and unable to express themselves due to their relationships with men. This was an issue that stimulated much thought in the poet, and one of the results was her determination to reassess her identity as a writer.



Notice how both paragraphs link. This is one of the hardest essay writing skill to perfect. The marking scheme rewards students for essays that are coherent and unified.




The inclusion of a personal statement is welcome at this point in the essay. This helps to keep the essay question focused.
This concern is dealt with in ‘The Roofwalker.’ In that brilliantly thoughtful and thought-provoking poem, the poet describes how ‘Giants, the roofwalkers | on a listing deck, the wave | of darkness about to break | on their heads.’ The giants are symbolic of the patriarchs of literature, the men whose style Rich has learned, and upon whose work she has modelled her writing. There is an awareness in the poem that the time for male dominance has come to an end. The poet must find a new style, a distinctively feminist voice, because she ‘lay - with infinite exertion - a roof I can’t live under’. This poem, written in 1962, clearly reflects the poet’s growing need to express herself as a woman, free from the influence of men. She knows this will be difficult, and feels ‘naked, ignorant’. The sense is that the struggle to find her voice as a feminist writer will be difficult, but she must take the chance. That awareness of the pain implicit in the struggle for women’s liberation, equality and rights is also evident in her most overtly political poem, ‘Power’. The poem, written in 1978, reflects back on the struggle radical feminists went through to excavate ‘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.’ I was fascinated by these lines. I loved the sense that the poet was writing in a stream of consciousness and that the precious bottle that has been excavated represented women’s rights, won after a long struggle. Of course, it is easy to take the equality of the sexes for granted in our modern world, where legislation exists to prevent discrimination based on gender. That is why it is interesting, from an historical perspective, to see the poet describe the long hard struggle women have had to endure to achieve these rights, which she brilliantly describes as “a tonic for living on this earth.”
Of course, the central figure in ‘Power’ is Marie Curie, the great Polish chemist who, for Rich, symbolises the feminist struggle . The decision to employ the image of Curie is typically insightful and clever. Curie had to suffer to achieve greatness, as the visceral description of the “cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends” proves. Rich employs Curie as a symbol for the pain women have had to and will have to endure to achieve equal status with men. This use of symbolism is one of the most memorable characteristics of Rich’s work. Her use of metaphor and figurative imagery really is remarkably effective. In ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’, the image of ‘her terrified hands […] still ringed with the ordeals she was mastered by’ effectively captures the suppression of women, just as the image of the ‘tigers in the panel that she made […] prancing, proud and unafraid’, captures the resilient spirit of the aunt and of all women. Similarly, in ‘Living in Sin’, the line ‘on the kitchen shelf among the saucers | a pair of beetle eyes would fix her own’ is remarkably effective. There is no escaping the horrified sense of realisation felt by the young woman who has committed herself to a doomed relationship. However, the most effective use of metaphor and symbolism in Rich’s poetry lies, for me, in ‘Trying to Talk With a Man.’ In this extraordinary poem, the poet’s relationship with her husband is compared to a desert. She talks about “an acute angle of understanding | moving itself like a locus of the sun | into this condemned scenery’. She is using metaphor in a memorable and innovative way to communicate her sense that her relationship with her husband has failed. This extraordinary use of figurative language continues in the poem as she describes the emotional distance she feels in her marriage by using a combination of sibilance and metaphor – ‘walking at noon in the ghost town | surrounded by a silence | that sounds like the silence of the place | except that it came with us and is familiar’.

These personal statements are strengthened by use of technical vocabulary.




This very strong conclusion rounds of the essay perfectly.

What is my personal estimation of Adrienne Rich’s poetry? I think it is wonderful. I think it is complex and simple, personal and political, moving and challenging. I don’t know if Rich would agree, but I think her poetry is didactic, because I have learned so much from reading it. I gained an insight into feminist ideology. I have learned that emotional problems and personal crises can be dealt with in a mature fashion. Most of all, I have learned that poetry that is carefully crafted and intensely passionate can be remarkable.




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