The ringing, defiant poetry of Adrienne Rich, who died yesterday at eighty-two, articulated the frustrations of women who came of age along clipped paths in the nineteen-forties and fifties, only to discover in the sixties and seventies the extent of their longing to tear up the grass. Her voice resounds, three generations on. From her 1963 poem “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” a modernist collage in which careless references to women’s lives from Horace, Diderot, Eliot, and Shakespeare are recast in tight, furious stanzas about domestic confinement (“Dolce ridens, dulce loquens / she shaves her legs until they gleam / like petrified mammoth-tusk) to her expansive later poems that elaborate the love between two women, Rich continually stretched categories of feminine identity. She was an explorer, “diving into the wreck,” as the title of one of her most famous poems has it, to help us find what is naked and unencumbered in ourselves: “the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth.”
We’ve gathered here seven of the twenty-eight poems by Rich published in this magazine between 1953 and 1958. In these early poems, we see the formal discipline and metric grace that Rich would maintain (and push against) throughout her long career. This is decorous verse becoming rude: the anger to which Rich would give such powerful voice bubbles beneath the taut surfaces of these fine poems.
“England and Always” (1953)
“The Marriage Portion” (1953)
“Living in Sin” (1954)
“At the Jewish New Year” (1956)
“Moving Inland” (1957)
“The Survivors” (1957)