Adrienne Rich is regarded by many as amongst the most influential poets of the period starting from 1950s onwards. She has written on a variety of subjects, but in each of them, her meticulous literary skills cannot be overlooked. This paper will discuss three of her poems, one named Song and the other two collectively referred to as Two Songs. Song covers the issue of loneliness from the perspective of a woman whereas Two Songs explore the topic of sex, still from a woman’s perspective. As will be seen herein, Rich uses her three poems to bring forward the undesirable experience of a woman in a relationship with a man.
The woman has to endure loneliness and discontent in a relationship. The poem titled Song particularly brings out this theme. In the first stanza, the woman likens her loneliness to that of a plane “as a plane rides lonely and level” (line 3). From this, the audience can imagine what a plane would feel like, if it was human, being all alone in the skies. From the outside, people think that it has its passengers so there can never be anything like loneliness. However, according to Rich, despite having several or many people inside, a plane is lonely. Similarly, a woman is in a relationship with a man, but she still experiences loneliness. She is as lonely as “a woman driving across country, day after day, leaving behind mile after mile”. The theme of loneliness can also be seen in the second poem under the title Two Songs. The poem talks about sex, but once again, the woman seems to experience loneliness in the sexual relationship. In the first line of the first stanza, she terms it “old last act”. Here, she seems to despise it even before explaining what her issue of concern is. She proceeds to indicate in the second and third line that “And yet sometimes all seems post coitum triste” This denotes that from her experience, sex is something intended to make a child, as opposed to also being enjoyed by the man and woman in a relationship.
Rich’s poems showcase the woman’s lack of free will in a relationship, as she appears to be driven by some strange force. From the poem titled Song, the woman has to keep going despite not being comfortable with the experience she is having in the relationship. Rich uses the literary device of metaphor to liken a woman to a plane. Irrespective of the fact that a plane may be feeling lonely in the sky even with the passengers on board, it cannot come down for that simple reason. It has to take its passengers to the destination whatever it will take it. The woman is in a similar situation. She is bound to continue being in the relationship and actually move forward despite the hardships she is experiencing. In Two Songs, she is lonely in the sexual relationship yet she has to allow sex to be done to her. Here, it is important to note that it is “done to her”, and not that she enjoys participating in it alongside her man. This can be seen in the second poem in the second stanza of Two Songs, where she says “and I a mere bystander”, “Somebody else is going off”, “getting shot to the moon” “Or a moon-race” (line 4, 5, 6, and 7). These statements portray a situation in which a man is enjoying himself while the woman watches it happen. Despite the fact that she does not enjoy it, she cannot help admiring the same man the following day. In the first song under Two Songs, she recalls the experience she had having sex the previous day. She says “ I thought of him who yesterday, clearly didn’t turn me to a hot field ready for plowing”. Up to this point, she explains how the man did not prepare her for sex prior to pushing her into it. Notwithstanding, she longs for him as she indicates “and longing for that young man, pierced me to the roots, bathing every vein, etc”, “All day he appears to me, touchingly desirable, a prize one could wreck peace for”. Although the man did not make her enjoy sex, she still admires and longs for him for the entire day. Looking at him, he appears “touchingly” desirable. Here, it is important to note that the sex experience was not a desirable one as the man “pierced her to the roots and bathed in her every vein”. Nevertheless, this does not keep her from longing for the culprit. This leaves the audience wondering what it is that could be keeping the woman in that relationship.
Rich depicts a woman as a victim of a man’s acts of selfishness. In fact, the audience is left thinking that the primary message in her poems is the tribulations that a woman goes through in the hands of a man. To start with, she wakes up early in the morning leaving the man asleep. In the third stanza of Song, she says “it must be the loneliness, of waking first, of breathing dawns’ first cold breath on the city, of being the one awake in a house wrapped in sleep”. This shows that she wakes up early in the morning, leaves everyone else in the house asleep, and proceeds to the city when the dew is hardly off the grass. This shows that the man in the relationship with her is irresponsible. As opposed to providing for the family as a man would ordinarily do, he remains in bed while the woman wakes up early. The manner in which he performs sex on the woman also shows the highest level of selfishness. This is shown in the first poem under Two Songs. The man “didn’t turn me to a hot field ready for plowing……pierced me to the roots bathing every vein, etc”. This depicts a man who is brutally enjoying himself at the expense of the woman. In fact, he appears to be using the woman as an object of his sexual gratification. He enjoys himself alone, but they suffer the consequences together with the woman. This can be seen in the second poem under Two Songs, where she says “Split seconds after, my opposite number lands, I make it…we lie fainting together”. The sexual act is thus conducted in a haste paying little attention to whether the woman in which it is happening is enjoying it. When everything has been done, they two lie “heavy as mercury in our moon suits, till he speaks…in a different language…”. After the man is done enjoying himself, he does not even speak to the woman using the same language as before. It can thus be concluded that to the woman, sex is just a means by which the man exercises physical abuse on her.
Lastly, it is clear that the woman depicted in Rich’s poem is not enjoying the role she is playing in the relationship. Firstly, she does not like it that she is the one wakes up before the man and goes to the city, probably to work. This dissatisfaction is shown in the poem titled Song. Rich could have brought out this message intentionally to show that even though the modern woman is also playing the role of the family’s provider, she has been compelled by circumstances to do it. Worse still, she is very dissatisfied if the man sits back and relaxes just because she has taken over what is otherwise regarded as his work. It can also be concluded from the fact that she is lonely and dissatisfied with sex, yet she finds herself longing for this same man, that she is kind of imprisoned in the relationship. Her role in the marriage appears to be just that of carrying a pregnancy and once the children are born, taking care of them. In the second poem under Two Songs, she says “And yet sometimes all seems post coitum triste”. This suggests that is as if sex is done to her so that she can have a fetus inside her. Even with this important role, she still has to wake up early and fed for the family while the man is left in bed.
In conclusion, Rich’s poems go to a great length in describing the predicament of a woman in an unhappy relationship. The woman herself is the persona in the poem and she expresses dissatisfaction in the way things are conducted. She is neither satisfied with the sexual relationship she has with the man nor is he happy with the fact that she appears to have adopted a role ordinarily played by a man while the man sits back and relaxes. It can be derived that Rich probably intended to be the voice of the many women who are trying to cope with unhappy but seemingly neccessary relationships.