An Atlas of the Difficult World Essay - Critical Essays

Adrienne Rich


Beginning with her preceding two collections of poetry, Time’s Power: Poems 1985-1988 (1989) and Your Native Land, Your Life (1986), Rich has been developing a more expansive poetic line. As the titles of these two earlier collections indicate, as well as the title An Atlas of the Difficult World, Rich has recast her poetics in the expansiveness of space and time. In these three collections, Rich has also written in longer forms, notably long poetic sequences. The combination of longer lines, poems built through a sequence of sections, and the expansive and reflective metaphors of land, time, and atlas have established in Rich’s voice a greater amplitude.

The personal and particular still define Rich’s poetic didacticism: She teaches and illuminates through specific examples. From the opening section of “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” Rich portrays a battered woman, beaten after an earthquake, a kerosene lantern thrown in her face, her writing torn up:

. . . I don’t want to thinkhow her guesses betrayed her—that he meant well, that shewas really stronger and ought not to leave himto his own apparent devastation. I don’t want to knowwreckage, dreck and waste, but these are the materialsand so are the slow lift of the moon’s bellyover wreckage, dreck, and waste, wild treefrogs calling inanother season, light and music still pouring overour fissured, cracked terrain.

The wreckage of relationships with others is as much part of the poet’s material as are the particulars of the natural world. In Rich’s earlier poetry, the natural...

(The entire section is 784 words.)