Adrienne Rich, the influential poet and essayist, has died at age 82.
Like many women of my generation I read Of Woman Born in college. Though having children was the last thing on my mind back in the 1990s, I was oddly relieved to find a feminist writing about motherhood. This was not a hot topic in the feminism of my youth. Motherhood was almost too messy and complicated to deal with. Mostly it just wasn’t brought up. We could take back the night. We could break the glass ceiling but how could we possibly talk about making babies in a positive way? Weren’t we trying to escape this role? Flee our wretched biology? Not be defined by our wombs? Or tits and asses? Our parts?
I will always be grateful to Adrienne Rich for going into that messy topic and making me feel and understand things I needed to feel and understand about my body and my . “Not biology,” she once wrote, “but ignorance of ourselves, has been the key to our powerlessness.”
I thought about her poems and essays when I became a mother and I’m thinking about her today. Here are some of her words:
“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.”
“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.”
“Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions–predigested books and ideas…marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be ‘different’…The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.”
“Life on the planet is born of woman.”
“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.”
Photo credit: Robert Giard