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Adrienne Rich

  • Love only what you do, / and not what you have done.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • title poem, The Diamond Cutters ()
  • ... to be young / Was always to live in other peoples' houses / Whose peace, if we sought it, had been made by others, / Was ours at second-hand and not for long.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Middle-Aged," The Diamond Cutters ()
  • A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • title essay, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law ()
  • But lust too is a jewel / a sweet flower ...

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Two Songs," Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law ()
  • Split at the root, neither Gentile nor Jew, / Yankee nor Rebel.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Readings of History," Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law ()
  • Only where there is language is there world.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Demon Lover," Leaflets ()
  • I wanted to choose words that even you / would have to be changed by ...

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Implosions," Leaflets ()
  • When they read this poem of mine, they are translators. / Every existence speaks a language of its own.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib," Leaflets ()
  • A language is a map of our failures.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • Where language and naming are power, / silence is oppression, is violence.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • I am a woman in the prime of my life, with certain powers and those powers severely limited by authorities whose faces I rarely see.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • ... the moment of change is the only poem.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Images for Godard," The Will to Change ()
  • Grief held back from the lips wears at the heart; the drop that refused to join the river dried up in the dust.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Shooting Script," The Will to Change ()
  • ... the faithfulness I can imagine would be a weed / flowering in tar, a blue energy piercing / the massed atoms of a bedrock disbelief.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "When We Dead Awaken," Diving Into the Wreck ()
  • Nothing could have prepared me for the realization that I was a mother ... when I knew I was still in a state of uncreation myself.

  • Our personalities seem dangerously to blur and overlap with our mother's; and, in a desperate attempt to know where mother ends and daughter begins, we perform radical surgery.

  • Every journey into the past is complicated by delusions, false memories, false namings of real events.

  • Motherhood, in the sense of an intense, reciprocal relationship with a particular child, or children, is one part of female process; it is not an identity for all time.

  • Women have always been seen as waiting: waited to be asked, waiting for our menses, in fear lest they do or do not come, waiting for men to come home from wars, or from work, waiting for children to grow up, or for the birth of a new child, or for menopause.

  • The worker can unionize, go out on strike; mothers are divided from each other in homes, tied to their children by compassionate bonds; our wildcat strikes have most often taken the form of physical or mental breakdown.

  • But before we were mothers, we have been, first of all, women, with actual bodies and actual minds.

  • Mothers and daughters have always exchanged with each other — beyond the verbally transmitted lore of female survival — a knowledge that is subliminal, subversive, preverbal: the knowledge flowing between two alike bodies, one of which has spent nine months inside the other.

  • The most notable fact that culture imprints on women is the sense of our limits. The most important thing one woman can do for another is to illuminate and expand her sense of actual possibilities.

  • We are, none of us, 'either' mothers or daughters; to our amazement, confusion, and greater complexity, we are both.

  • Abortion is violence; a deep, desperate violence inflicted by a woman upon, first of all, herself.

  • The mother's battle for her child — with sickness, with poverty, with war, with all the forces of exploitation and callousness that cheapen human life — needs to become a common human battle, waged in love and in the passion for survival.

  • Since we're not young, weeks have to do time for years of missing each other.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "III," Twenty-One Love Poems ()
  • The rules break like a thermometer, / quicksilver spills across the charted systems, / we're out in a country that has no language / no laws, we're chasing the raven and the wren / through gorges unexplored since dawn / whatever we do together is pure invention / the maps they gave us were out of date / by years ...

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "XII," Twenty-One Love Poems ()
  • Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship to everything in the universe.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • in Judy Grahn, The Work of a Common Woman ()
  • No one sleeps in this room without the dream of a common language.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • title essay, The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • Marriage is lonelier than solitude.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Paula Becker to Clare Westhoff," The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • We have lived with violence far too long.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Natural Resources," The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • But gentleness is active / gentleness swabs the crusted stump / invents more merciful instruments / to touch the wound beyond the wound.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Natural Resources," The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • I choose to love this time for once / with all my intelligence.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Splittings," The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • The decision to feed the world / is the real decision.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Hunger," The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • ... two women, eye to eye / measuring each other's spirit, each other's / limitless desire, / a whole new poetry beginning here.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Transcendental Etude," The Dream of a Common Language ()
  • 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," in Chrysalis ()
  • [The poet] is endowed to speak for those who do not have the gift of language, or to see for those who — for whatever reasons — are less conscious of what they are living through. It is as though the risks of the poet's existence can be put to some use beyond her own survival.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson" (1975), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • Language is power ... Language can be used as a means of changing reality.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Teaching Language in Open Admissions" (1972), On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • It's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • ... day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name. For writing is re-naming.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • One serious cultural obstacle encountered by any feminist writer is that each feminist work has tended to be received as if it emerged from nowhere; as if each one of us had lived, thought, and worked without any historical past or contextual present. This is one of the ways in which women's work and thinking has been made to seem sporadic, errant, orphaned of any tradition of its own.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • foreword, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • ... people are growing up in the slack flicker of a pale light which lacks the concentrated burn of a candle flame or oil wick or the bulb of a gooseneck desk lamp: a pale, wavering, oblong shimmer, emitting incessant noise, which is to real knowledge or discourse what the manic or weepy protestations of a drunk are to responsible speech. Drunks do have a way of holding an audience, though, and so does the shimmery ill-focused oblong screen.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • foreword, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • Lying is done with words, and also with silence.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • There is no 'the truth,' 'a truth' — truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • The liar has many friends, and leads an existence of great loneliness.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • The liar often suffers from amnesia. Amnesia is the silence of the unconscious.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • Lies are usually attempts to make everything simpler — for the liar — than it really is, or ought to be.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • An honorable human relationship ... is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • The liar leads an existence of unutterable loneliness.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • The necessity of poetry has to be stated over and over, but only to those who have reason to fear its power, or those who still believe that language is 'only words' and that an old language is good enough for our descriptions of the world we are trying to transform.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Power and Danger: Works of a Common Woman," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • ... motherhood is the great mesh in which all human relations are entangled, in which lurk our most elemental assumptions about love and power.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Contemporary Emergency and the Quantum Leap," On Lies, Secrets, and Silence ()
  • Anger and tenderness: my selves. / And now I can believe they breathe in me / as angels, not polarities. / Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius / to spin and weave in the same action / from her own body, anywhere — / even from a broken web.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Integrity," A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far ()
  • Strangers are an endangered species ...

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Spirit of Place," A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far ()
  • The woman / I needed to call my mother / was silenced before I was born.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Re-forming the Crystal" (1973), The Fact of a Doorframe ()
  • Any woman's death diminishes me.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "From an Old House in America" (1974), The Fact of a Doorframe ()
  • I am writing this in a time / when anything we write / can be used against those we love / where the context is never given / though we try to explain, over and over ...

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "North American Time," The Fact of a Doorframe ()
  • As a society in turmoil, we are going to see more, and more various, attempts to simulate order through repression; and art is a historical target for such efforts.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • in Richard Jones, ed., Poetry and Politics ()
  • 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. ... The song is higher than the struggle, and the artist must choose between politics — here defined as earth-bound factionalism, corrupt power struggles — and art, which exists on some transcendent plane.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • title essay, Blood, Bread, and Poetry ()
  • I wanted him [my father] to cherish and approve of me, not as he had when I was a child, but as the woman I was, who had her own mind and had made her own choices.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Split at the Root," Blood, Bread, and Poetry ()
  • The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs ...

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Split at the Root," Blood, Bread, and Poetry ()
  • If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live in dignity and hope, you begin with the empowering of the most powerless. You build from the ground up.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "'Going There' and Being Here," Blood, Bread, and Poetry ()
  • Pride is a tricky, glorious, double-edged feeling.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "If Not With Others, How?" Blood, Bread, and Poetry ()
  • A patriot is one who wrestles for the / soul of her country / as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country / ... / as he wrestles for his own being.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • title poem, An Atlas of the Difficult World ()
  • What does it mean to say I have survived / until you take the mirrors and turn them outward / and read your own face in their outraged light?

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Through Corralitos Under Rolls of Cloud," An Atlas of the Difficult World ()
  • Experience is always larger than language.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • in American Poetry Review ()
  • Sexist grammar burns into the brains of little girls and young woman a message that the male is the norm, the standard, the central figure beside which we are the deviants, the marginal, the dependent variables. It lays the foundation for androcentric thinking, and leaves men safe in their solipsistic tunnel-vision.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Taking Women Students Seriously," in Evelyn Ashton-Jones and Gary A. Olson, The Gender Reader ()
  • Writers matter in a society to the extent that we can help that society hear its unvoiced longing, encounter its erased and disregarded selves, break with complacency, numbness, despair.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • speech ()
  • TV has created a kind of false collectivity.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • in The Hungry Mind Review ()
  • I am suspicious — first of all, in myself — of adopted mysticisms of glib spirituality, above all of white people's tendency to ... vampirize American Indian, or African, or Asian, or other 'exotic' ways of understanding.

  • Poetry can open locked chambers of possibiity, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire.

  • The [Vietnam War Memorial] Wall became a magnet for citizens of every generation, class, race, and relationship to the war perhaps because it is the only great public monument that allows the anesthetized holes in the heart to fill with a truly national grief.

  • I do not think [poetry] is more, or less, necessary than food, shelter, health, education, decent working conditions. It is as necessary.

  • White hate crimes, white hate speech. I still try to claim I wasn't brought up to hate. But hate isn't the half of it. I grew up in the vast encircling presumption of whiteness — that primary quality of being which knows itself, its passions, only against an otherness that has to be dehumanized. I grew up in white silence that was utterly obsessional. Race was the theme whatever the topic.

  • 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.

  • It is important to possess a short-term pessimism and a long-term optimism ...

  • Much that you need has been lost ... We must use what we have to invent what we desire.

  • Falling in love on words / and ending in silence / with its double-meanings.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "Pieces," The Will to Change ()
  • ... this is the oppressor's language / yet I need it to talk to you.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • The friend I can trust is the one who will let me have my death. / The rest are actors who want me to stay and further the plot.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • untitled poem, Poems: Selected and New 1950-1974 ()
  • 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.

Adrienne Rich, U.S. poet, essayist, feminist

(1929 - 2012)

Full name: Adrienne Cecile Rich.