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Adrienne Rich’s Poetry Communicates Powerful Feelings Through Thought Provoking Images and Symbols

By RalukaSipos1 Oct 15, 2012 1470 Words
2012 Higher Level Exam Question :Adrienne Rich’s poetry communicates powerful feelings through thought provoking images and symbols.

The poetry of Adrienne Rich is indeed communicating powerful feelings such as regret , sadness, fear, desire, desperation ,despair ,constriction , oppression, loneliness, hope and many others. She is challenging us ,the readers using thought provoking images and symbols all throughout her poems ,I will mainly focus on: ‘Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers’, ‘The Roofwalker’,’ Trying to talk with a man’ and lastly ‘From a survivor’. Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers that does not represent Rich herself as she wrote it as a young woman, but it does represent women at that time. In this poem Rich presents us with the ‘typical marriage’ at that time where women felt constricted by their marriage and felt it was a burden weighing them down ‘The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band/Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.’ Aunt Jennifer was feeling oppressed and afraid ,’her terrified hands’ because her husband was the one who had power over her and the one who made the important decisions making Aunt Jennifer feel insignificant ‘Still ringed with the ordeals she was mastered by.’ Yet the tigers she created have no fear of the human beings and perhaps this was Aunt Jennifer’s desire ,not to fear ‘the men beneath the tree.’ Rich I believe choose the tigers as the symbol of power and freedom to especially show what Aunt Jennifer was thinking deep within and the contrast between Aunt Jennifer and her creation ,the tigers. I believe there is a hope and a wish that the way women are seen will change for future generation ,this is shown at the end of the poem ‘The tigers in the panel that she made/ Will go on prancing ,proud and unafraid.’ In this poem Rich makes efficient use of imagery throughout the poem but also of symbolism. She created a memorable image of the tigers using strong colours such as the ‘Bright topaz’ , ‘world of green’ this is making the image more alive and imaginable to us the readers as it triggers our imagination. It can also be argued that Rich shows the contrast between the tigers and Aunt Jennifer by using the colours as symbols. The tigers are ‘Bright topaz’ which is a colour that is alive and energetic representing them as free and strong , the colour associated with Aunt Jennifer is ‘ivory ‘ which is a cold colour ,which in Aunt Jennifer’s case represents weakness .The use of alliteration in my opinion also helps us imagine things more easily ,as it appeals to us because of the musical effects it creates in the poem ,for example ‘fingers fluttering’ and ‘chivalric certainty ‘.The wedding ring on Aunt Jennifer’s hand is also a symbol of oppression from which there is no escape and this shows us that perhaps Aunt Jennifer regretted the marriage that she got in and perhaps wished that she could have been ‘Prancing proud and unafraid.’ Rich shows strong feeling towards feminist issues such as marriage in her poems from a early date and she addresses these issues and feelings associated , throughout most of her poems, which gives them a significant importance. Her voice is consciously public ,as a witness ,commentator and advocate for change. I believe Aunt Jennifer wanted a change and she wanted to communicate what she was feeling through her work, as an artist just like Rich is doing through her poems.

The Roofwalker is a poem in which Rich goes through issues that trouble her. She comes into contact with a lot of struggles and feelings of many kind and she is looking back at her life trying to make some sense of it. She uses the image of the builders working on a rooftop in order to describe her plight , her sense of being trapped in a marriage where she did not belong. Rich is confronting desperation as she must learn to exist outside the little world she and her husband created around themselves, perhaps she was feeling so desperate that she was considering suicide ‘larger than life /and due to break my neck.’ She also feels ‘exposed ‘ and open to negative comments from the world as she was exiting the normality of what is expected from a woman and what was considered common and normal. Rich compares herself with the builders , just like them she has put all the work into building her marriage while they put all the work into building the houses , yet they stay on the roofs and examine them just as she is outside her marriage examining all the work that she and her husband put in and if it was actually worth it, ‘Was it worth while to lay-/ with infinite exertion-/a roof I can’t live under?’ She feels trapped in a marriage that perhaps she choose to fulfil the world’s expectation from her as a woman but it actually was not what she would have done deep down ,’A life I didn’t choose/ chose me: even /my tools are the wrong ones for what I have to do.’ She fears the future just like any person would going through change. Rich shows with no reservation in expressing the fact that she regretted choosing to get married and she knows that if she had chosen differently her life would have been different and she would not be in this dilemma that surrounds her .If she had chosen y she would only ever read about distress ‘anguish and vulnerability ,rather than experiencing these strong emotional states her self:‘reading-not with indifference about a naked man fleeing across the roofs.’ She sees ‘these roofwalkers’ as lost , lonely and vulnerable. She uses a vivid image to capture this sense of loneliness and vulnerability ,describing the roofwalkers as sailor adrift on a vast ocean.The roof they stand on is like a’ listing deck’ Rich uses the roof as a symbol to represent the risk and danger of marriage as the builders on the roof are at the risk ‘to break’ . The poem’s central concern in Trying to talk with a Man is the collapse of the speaker’s marriage using two powerful metaphors to capture the decline of their relationship and their feelings. The bomb testing site is a metaphor for the inner affliction of the speaker. Rich compares the imagery of domestic life against the arid ‘condemned scenery’ of a Nevada test site with the ‘underground river/ forcing its way between deformed cliffs’. Rich uses provocative images to imply the fall-out that accompanies a marriage break up.The dread factor of a nuclear explosion which is a public issue , is compared to the dread factor of a nuclear explosion which is a very much private issue.

In this poem Rich realizes she wants to start a new life and she has a moment of realization in the desert , she knows her marriage has ended and even though they came for something else it ended up being the test for their marriage, ‘ as if it were not ourselves /as if we were testing anything else.’ In ‘From a Survivor’ Rich wrote about her own feelings and experiences of marriage after the suicide of her husband from whom she was separated. She begins the poem by expressing the excitement and happiness that was once present between them ‘I don’t know who we thought we were /that our personalities / could resist the failures of the race’. They believed they were different from everybody else but they were actually not ‘we thought of ourselves as special’. She still refers to marriage as an unequal institution where the woman is constricted and limited in powers, she shows this in the poem as she refers to her husband as ‘the body of a god’ which is clearly suggesting he had power. This is because of the use of the word ‘god’ which is an powerful figure that generally has power over other people. In this poem I think she may refer to the fact that her husband had some power over her because of their marriage. She also describes him as being ‘wastefully dead’ creating a strong image of someone who had taken their own life without realizing their potential. The poem ends without a full stop suggesting there is some hope for the poet who survived the failed marriage and that she will continue to be happy as a person with independent existence with a optimist view on the world, ‘amazing moments /each one making possible the next’. The majority of Rich’s poems speak about fear ,desire and powerlessness and the inability to express feminine experiences in a male dominated world and all of them are realised through precise and evocative images and unique symbols that speak to the readers and make her poems expressions of appealing ideas.

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