Adrienne Rich, 1930-2012

Adrienne Rich, poet and essayist, died last week at 82; she was a forthright and inspirational voice for women struggling to describe the change many sought during the '60s and early '70s.

In these words from "Transcendental Etudes", Rich offers her vision of self-responsibility as it pertains to women: 

Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: 'I have an inward treasure born with me', which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give. 

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.” 

Her words do not seem like artifacts of another era; they have life and power today. 

Tributes abound. Artist Lisa Congdon's blog, today is going to be awesome, shows her hand-lettered rendering of a section of Rich's poem, "Sources", long an important piece to me. (Congdon also sells her work on Etsy, at her store, Lisa Congdon Illustration & Art.)

She has permitted me to share her work here, in memory of Rich's gifts and courage.



déjà pseu said…
I remember reading some of her essays and poems and being so moved by them. Thank you for sharing this tribute.
Anonymous said…
I heard her read in the Harvard chapel one night in the late '70s. She was so small and unassuming, yet absolutely (as the piece you've excerpted shows) uncompromising. I remember the love and gratitude we all felt for her then, and I hope that she was nourished by it, as we were by her poems.
Anonymous said…
Wonderful tribute to an amazing woman. And since we've been discussing "attractive" on other blogs, I think strength in a woman is without a doubt one of the most "attractive".
materfamilias said…
Thanks for this, Duchesse. I've been reading through my Selected Poems during the past week -- so much richness in them. She was such a beacon for so many.
Anonymous said…
I wish I had been born into strong women like this.
I agree with what Kathy says, I wish I knew how to develop that part of myself.
Jill Ann said…
I just finished emailing a helpful tidbit of advice to my daughter in college. She rolls her eyes at me when I do that; she just texted me back, "I love when you send me advice, Mom!". (eyeroll implied).

Now I am going to send her this essay as well! I've worked very hard to impress upon her and her younger sister that it's so important to make the best use of their brains, to get the best education they can, to be able to earn a good living without having to depend on a man. Although if you can find a nice man who ALSO earns a good living, so much the better.

I learned most of this from MY mom, who always had a job, even when it was frowned upon for a 50s wife & mother to work. And to some extent from my granny, who was made to quit school at 14, but who always told me to "make something of yourself". I love strong, smart women!
Anonymous said…
Outstanding post and quote. We still need that message (though today for many women we're exhorted to lose ourselves in work rather than love - or ourselves). Love the hand-lettered poem as well. In fact, I need to go buy and read some Rich right now.
Duchesse said…
pseu: You're welcome. I am only sorry I revisited her work because of the sad occasion.

Anon @ 9:43: Wonderful experience, you were lucky..

kathy peck: Absolutely, and I doubt she worried much about things many of us can slide into thinking are big deals.

materfamilias: Do you include her work in your classes? I would love to take an entire course on her.

Tabitha: As she says in "Sources", what you need is within.

Jill Ann: Even though it might be perceived as pushy I'm certain I would put material like this into my daughter's hands, if I had them.
Exposure to wisdom is not a crime.

Anon @ 2:18: I ordered a print of the poem from Lisa; though not shown on her Etsy site, I convo'd her; she will make them, and I thought it would make a fine gift.
Margy said…
What a wonderful post! Thank you for reminding me of AR's words...
Anonymous said…
All of this was new to me, although I have taught her poems for years. And that bit that has been handlettered...would make a most inspirational daily reminder.
Duchesse said…
Margy: You're welcome; I have been immersed in her poems all week.

Terri: I have ordered a copy and will either frame it for myself or give as a gift. (Graduation or birthday gift for a woman friend.)

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