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American poet & feminist (1929-2012)

How shall we ever make the world intelligent of our movement? I do not think that the answer lies in trying to render feminism easy, popular, and instantly gratifying. To conjure with the passive culture and adapt to its rules is to degrade and deny the fullness of our meaning and intention.

ADRIENNE RICH, On Lies, Secrets, and Silences

War is bestowed like electroshock on the depressive nation; thousands of volts jolting the system, an artificial galvanizing, one effect of which is loss of memory. War comes at the end of the twentieth century as absolute failure of imagination, scientific and political. That a war can be represented as helping a people to “feel good” about themselves, their country, is a measure of that failure.

ADRIENNE RICH, What is Found There

I'd call it love if love
didn't take so many years
but lust too is a jewel.

ADRIENNE RICH, Necessities of Life

The unconscious wants truth. It ceases to speak to those who want something else more than truth.

ADRIENNE RICH, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

Your mind now, moldering like wedding-cake,
heavy with useless experience, rich
with suspicion, rumor, fantasy,
crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge
of mere fact.

ADRIENNE RICH, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

No woman is really an insider in the institutions fathered by masculine consciousness. When we allow ourselves to believe we are, we lost touch with parts of ourselves defined as unacceptable by that consciousness; with the vital toughness and visionary strength of the angry grandmothers, the shamanesses, the fierce market-women of the Ibo's Women's War, the marriage-resisting women silkworkers of prerevolutionary China, the millions of widows, midwives, and the women healers tortured and burned as witches for three centuries in Europe.

ADRIENNE RICH, Blood, Bread and Poetry

There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.


At twenty, yes: we thought we'd live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren't born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.

ADRIENNE RICH, Twenty-one Love Poems, III

To write as if your life depended on it; to write across the chalkboard, putting up there in public the words you have dredged; sieved up in dreams, from behind screen memories, out of silence--words you have dreaded and needed in order to know you exist.

ADRIENNE RICH, What Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics

To become a token woman—whether you win the Nobel Prize or merely get tenure at the cost of denying your sisters—is to become something less than a man ... since men are loyal at least to their own world-view, their laws of brotherhood and self-interest.

ADRIENNE RICH, Ms. Magazine, Sep. 1979

The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.

ADRIENNE RICH, "Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism, Gynophobia," Chrysalis, 1979

In order to live a fully human life we require not only control of our bodies (though control is a prerequisite); we must touch the unity and resonance of our physicality, our bond with the natural order, the corporeal grounds of our intelligence.


The vixen I met at twilight on Route 5
south of Willoughby: long dead. She was an omen
to me, surviving, herding her cubs
in the silvery bend of the road
in nineteen sixty-five.


There is the falsely mystical view of art that assumes a kind of supernatural inspiration, a possession by universal forces unrelated to questions of power and privilege or the artist's relation to bread and blood. In this view, the channel of art can only become clogged and misdirected by the artist's concern with merely temporary and local disturbances. The song is higher than the struggle.

ADRIENNE RICH, Blood, Bread and Poetry

A thinking woman sleeps with monsters
that beak which grips her, she becomes.

ADRIENNE RICH, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

We who were loved will never
unlive that crippling fever.

ADRIENNE RICH, "After a Sentence in 'Malte Laurids Brigge,'" Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

The ocean, whose tides respond like women's menses, to the pull of the moon, the ocean which corresponds to the amniotic fluid in which human life begins, the ocean on whose surface vessels (personified as female) can ride but in whose depth sailors meet their death and monsters conceal themselves ... it is unstable and threatening as the earth is not; it spawns new life daily, yet swallows up lives; it is changeable like the moon, unregulated, yet indestructible and eternal.


You look at me like an emergency.

ADRIENNE RICH, Diving Into the Wreck

Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.


Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for woman more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for women, is more than a search for identity: it is part of our refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society.

ADRIENNE RICH, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978

Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is also a direct or indirect attack on the male right of access to women.

ADRIENNE RICH, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," Blood, Bread and Poetry

She shaves her legs until they gleam
like petrified mammoth-tusk.

ADRIENNE RICH, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

My children cause me the most exquisite suffering of which I have any experience. It is the suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw-edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness. Sometimes I seem to myself, in my feelings toward these tiny guiltless beings, a monster of selfishness and intolerance.


We assume that politicians are without honor. We read their statements trying to crack the code. The scandals of their politics: not so much that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed.

ADRIENNE RICH, "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," reprinted in On Lies, Secrets, and Silence

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.

ADRIENNE RICH, Twenty-one Love Poems, I

Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

ADRIENNE RICH, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying


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