Adrienne Rich died this past week. She was a poet who seemed to start out conventional and end up up-ending just that. As the New Yorker put it, she and many other women trod the trimmed path in the 40s and 50s, only to find in the 60s and 70s that they wanted to tear up the grass. She was born in 1929, so in her 83 years she must have witnessed epochal change in the way women see and are seen, many times over. Her most famous poem, probably, is “Diving into the Wreck,” which became a kind of manifesto for a certain kind of feminism: “the wreck and not the story of the wreck; the thing itself and not the myth.” The underwater search for unaccommodated woman is a dark exercise; she comes, after all, to see “the damage.” There's little light here, if there's truth. I prefer the dazzling joy of this earlier, sweeter poem, “Holiday,” with its intentional forgetfulness of dark.
Summer was another country, where the birds
Woke us at dawn among the dripping leaves
And lent to all our fetes their sweet approval.
The touch of air on flesh was lighter, keener,
The senses flourished like a laden tree
Whose every gesture finishes in a flower.
In those unwardened provinces we dined
From wicker baskets by a green canal,
Staining our lips with peach and nectarine,
Slapping at golden wasps. And when we kissed,
Tasting that sunlit juice, the landscape folded
Into our clasp, and not a breath recalled
The long walk back to winter, leagues away.