Post
Experience Project iOS Android Apps | Download EP for your Mobile Device

Poetry By Adrienne Rich

I have been enjoying poetry by Adrienne Rich...I appreciate this one more, the older I get, and I'd imagine by the time my son marries, I will really have an even broader understanding of it.  I read that it took her 10 years to write this poem...it's funny that it will take me even longer than that, a lifetime, perhaps, to understand it fully.   

Snapshot of a Daugther-in-Law by Adrienne Rich

 

            1

               

You, once a belle in Shreveport,

with henna-colored hair, skin like a peachbud,

still have your dresses copied from that time,

and play a Chopin prelude

called by Cortot: "Delicious recollections

float like perfume through the memory."

 

Your mind now, moldering like wedding-cake,

heavy with useless experience, rich

with suspicion, rumor, fantasy,

crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge

of mere fact.  In the prime of your life.

 

Nervy, glowering, your daughter

wipes the teaspoons, grows another way.

 

                2

               

Banging the coffee-pot into the sink

she hears the angels chiding, and looks out

past the raked gardens to the sloppy sky.

Only a week since They said: Have no patience.

 

The next time it was: Be insatiable.

Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.

Sometimes she's let the tapstream scald her arm,

a match burn to her thumbnail,

 

or held her hand above the kettle's snout

right inthe woolly steam.  They are probably angels,

since nothing hurts her anymore, except

each morning's grit blowing into her eyes.

 

                3

               

A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.

The beak that grips her, she becomes.  And Nature,

that sprung-lidded, still commodious

steamer-trunk of tempora and mores

gets stuffed with it all:    the mildewed orange-flowers,

the female pills, the terrible breasts

of Boadicea beneath flat foxes' heads and orchids.

Two handsome women, gripped in argument,

each proud, acute, subtle, I hear scream

across the cut glass and majolica

like Furies cornered from their prey:

The argument ad feminam, all the old knives

that have rusted in my back, I drive in yours,

ma semblable, ma soeur! (literally translated as, “my double, my sister!”) 

                4

               

Knowing themselves too well in one another:

their gifts no pure fruition, but a thorn,

the ***** filed sharp against a hint of scorn...

Reading while waiting

for the iron to heat,

writing, My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun—(a poem by Emily Dickenson)

in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum,

or, more often,

iron-eyed and beaked and purposed as a bird,

dusting everything on the whatnot every day of life.

 

                5

               

Dulce ridens, dulce loquens, (literally translated, “Sweetly laughing, Sweetly Speaking”)

she shaves her legs until they gleam

like petrified mammoth-tusk.

 

                6

               

When to her lute Corinna sings

neither words nor music are her own;

only the long hair dipping

over her cheek, only the song

of silk against her knees

and these

adjusted in reflections of an eye.

 

Poised, trembling and unsatisfied, before

an unlocked door, that cage of cages,

tell us, you bird, you tragical machine--

is this fertillisante douleur?(literally translated: “Enriching pain”) Pinned down

by love, for you the only natural action,

are you edged more keen

to prise the secrets of the vault? has Nature shown

her household books to you, daughter-in-law,

that her sons never saw?

 

                7

               

"To have in this uncertain world some stay

which cannot be undermined, is

of the utmost consequence."

                                                Thus wrote

a woman, partly brave and partly good,

who fought with what she partly understood.

Few men about her would or could do more,

hence she was labeled harpy, shrew and *****.

 

                8

               

"You all die at fifteen," said Diderot,

and turn part legend, part convention.

Still, eyes inaccurately dream

behind closed windows blankening with steam.

Deliciously, all that we might have been,

all that we were--fire, tears,

wit, taste, martyred ambition--

stirs like the memory of refused adultery

the drained and flagging bosom of our middle years.

 

                9

               

Not that it is done well, but

that it is done at all? Yes, think

of the odds! or shrug them off forever.

This luxury of the precocious child,

Time's precious chronic invalid,--

would we, darlings, resign it if we could?

Our blight has been our sinecure:

mere talent was enough for us--

glitter in fragments and rough drafts.

 

Sigh no more, ladies.

                                Time is male

and in his cups drinks to the fair.

Bemused by gallantry, we hear

our mediocrities over-praised,

indolence read as abnegation,

slattern thought styled intuition,

every lapse forgiven, our crime

only to cast too bold a shadow

or smash the mold straight off.

For that, solitary confinement,

tear gas, attrition shelling.

Few applicants for that honor.

 

                10

               

                                                Well,

she's long about her coming, who must be

more merciless to herself than history.

Her mind full to the wind, I see her plunge

breasted and glancing through the currents,

taking the light upon her

at least as beautiful as any boy

or helicopter,

                                poised, still coming,

her fine blades making the air wince

 

but her cargo

no promise then:

delivered

palpable

ours.

 

autumnrocks123 autumnrocks123 26-30 1 Response Nov 17, 2009

Your Response

Cancel

I don't think it's especially in the spirit of the late Adrienne Rich to censor her work--stanza 7 above. If she wanted to use the word "*****" she deserved and deserves to have it read in context. Though I guess it in a backhanded way the censorship affirms her continued ability decades later to still unsettle and even shock readers.