RICH, ADRIENNE [CECILE] (1929-2012). The author of twenty books of poems and four prose works, Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore. “Diving into the Wreck” (1972), a poem frequently anthologized, contains her fullest, most dramatic reference to the sea. In this poem, the speaker gives up her old notions of power because they don’t seem to apply where the sea is the controlling element. Attempts to gain power over the sea appear useless to Rich’s diver, who has to move differently in the sea and adjust. This crucial understanding makes further discoveries possible, and a merging of powers, both masculine and feminine, occurs. This merging forms the major action of the poem and leads to the diver’s understanding of his/her androgynous nature. The sea proves a valuable context for a developing consciousness.
An earlier reference to the sea may be found in “Shooting Script,” Part I (1969-1970), where Rich uses the sea chiefly as a metaphor of change. Observing the surf on a rocky coastline, the poet notes how the elements of rock and wave naturally affect and transform each other. Wave and rock compose a type of conversation that this montagelike poem parallels to human interaction. The sea forms the setting for the eighth of Rich’s “Love Poems” (1974-1976). Here, the poet rejects the possibility of suicide by drowning; such a willed death is not something for which she is suited. In the self-reflective “Solfegietto” (1985-1988), the ocean represents all that is vast and unknowable.
A resident of Santa Cruz, California, since 1984, Rich makes reference to the Pacific Ocean in her long poem “An Atlas of the Difficult World” (1990-1991). Even though she lives within two miles of the coast, she finds in this poem that the earth is more compelling. Rich has no deep affinity for the sea. In the same poem, she finds the sea lacking as an instructor about how to live one’s life. Ultimately, the sea, for Adrienne Rich, is its own entity, often violent and mainly separate from human concerns.
“Diving into the Wreck” (1973)