Adrienne Rich was an American poet and essayist. She identified as a feminist. She was once described as, “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century.” Through her poems, she brought “the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse.
In today’s post, we will be reading six of the best poems by Adrienne Rich.
Best poems by Adrienne Rich
- Shattered Head
A life hauls itself uphill
through hoar-mist steaming
the sun’s tongue licking
leaf upon leaf into stricken liquid
When? When? cry the soothseekers
but time is a bloodshot eye
seeing its last of beauty its own
a bloodshot mind
finding itself unspeakable
What is the last thought?
Now I will let you know?
or, Now I know?
(porridge of skull-splinters, brain tissue
mouth and throat membrane, cranial fluid)
Shattered head on the breast
of a wooded hill
Laid down there endlessly so
tendrils soaked into matted compose
became a root
torqued over the faint springhead
groin whence illegible
matter leaches: worm-borings, spurts of silt
volumes of sporic changes
hair long blown into far follicles
blasted into a chosen place
Revenge on the head (genitals, breast, untouched)
revenge on the mouth
packed with its inarticulate confessions
revenge on the eyes
green-gray and restless
revenge on the big and searching lips
the tender tongue
revenge on the sensual, on the nose the
carrier of history
revenge on the life devoured
in another incineration
You can walk by such a place, the earth is
made of them
where the stretched tissue of a field or woods
with beloved matter
the soothseekers have withdrawn
you feel no ghost, only a sporic chorus
when that place utters its worn sigh
let us have peace
And the shattered head answers back
And I believed I was loved, I believed I loved
Who did this to us?
- Cartographies of Silence
A conversation begins
with a lie. and each
speaker of the so-called common language feels
the ice-floe split, the drift apart
as if powerless, as if up against
a force of nature
A poem can being
with a lie. And be torn up.
A conversation has other laws
recharges itself with its own
false energy, Cannot be torn
up. Infiltrates our blood. Repeats itself.
Inscribes with its unreturning stylus
the isolation it denies.
The classical music station
playing hour upon hour in the apartment
the picking up and picking up
and again picking up the telephone
The syllables uttering
the old script over and over
The loneliness of the liar
living in the formal network of the lie
twisting the dials to drown the terror
beneath the unsaid word
The technology of silence
The rituals, etiquette
the blurring of terms
silence not absence
of words or music or even
Silence can be a plan
the blueprint of a life
It is a presence
it has a history a form
Do not confuse it
with any kind of absence
How calm, how inoffensive these words
begin to seem to me
though begun in grief and anger
Can I break through this film of the abstract
without wounding myself or you
there is enough pain here
This is why the classical of the jazz music station plays?
to give a ground of meaning to our pain?
The silence strips bare:
In Dreyer’s Passion of Joan
Falconetti’s face, hair shorn, a great geography
mutely surveyed by the camera
If there were a poetry where this could happen
not as blank space or as words
stretched like skin over meanings of a night through which two people
have talked till dawn.
of an illegitimate voice
It has ceased to hear itself, therefore
it asks itself
How do I exist?
This was the silence I wanted to break in you
I had questions but you would not answer
I had answers but you could not use them
The is useless to you and perhaps to others
It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything-
chalk it on the walls where the dead poets
lie in their mausoleums
If at the will of the poet the poem
could turn into a thing
a granite flank laid bare, a lifted head
alight with dew
If it could simply look you in the face
with naked eyeballs, not letting you turn
till you, and I who long to make this thing,
were finally clarified together in its stare
No. Let me have this dust,
these pale clouds dourly lingering, these words
moving with ferocious accuracy
like the blind child’s fingers
or the newborn infant’s mouth
violent with hunger
No one can give me, I have long ago
taken this method
whether of bran pouring from the loose-woven sack
or of the bunsen-flame turned low and blue
If from time to time I envy
the pure annunciation to the eye
the visio beatifica
if from time to time I long to turn
like the Eleusinian hierophant
holding up a single ear of grain
for the return to the concrete and everlasting world
what in fact I keep choosing
are these words, these whispers, conversations
from which time after time the truth breaks moist and green.
Suggested read: Pink In Your Color And Other Poems By Amy King
- Twenty-One Love Poems – I
Wherever in this city, screens flicker
with pornography, with science-fiction vampires,
victimized hirelings bending to the lash,
we also have to walk…if simply as we walk
through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties
of our own neighborhoods.
We need to grasp our lives inseparable
from those rancid dreams, that blurt of metal, those disgraces,
and the red begonia perilously flashing
from a tenement sill six stories high,
or the long-legged young girls playing ball
in the junior highschool playground.
No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.
- Twenty-One Love Poems – XVI
Across a city from you, I’m with you,
just as an August night
moony, inlet-warm, seabathed, I watched you sleep,
the scrubbed, sheenless wood of the dressing-table
cluttered with our brushes, books, vials in the moonlight-
or a salt-mist orchard, lying at your side
watching red sunset through the screendoor of the cabin,
G minor Mozart on the tape-recorder,
falling asleep to the music of the sea.
This island of Manhattan is wide enough
for both of us, and narrow:
I can hear your breath tonight, I know how your face
lies upturned, the halflight tracing
your generous, delicate mouth
where grief and laughter sleep together.
- 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 has walked from his village, burning
his whole body a cloud of pain
and there are no words for this
- 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
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
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
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
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
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
our names do not appear.
Suggested read: Renascence And Other Poems By Edna Millay
This is all we have on today’s post on the Best Poems By Adrienne Rich. This is, however, not an exhaustive list, and if we have missed out on some of your favorites, then please feel free to add them in the comment section below.
Until next time!
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