Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Rich is primarily a political poet, and this poem expresses her critique of a society following destructive paths. She frequently uses her own location and experience as starting points for an examination of social and political issues. At the time she wrote this poem, she had already been active in the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and the antiwar movement protesting against American involvement in the Vietnam War. At this stage of the women’s movement, feminists had formulated a critique of Western patriarchy. They believed that militancy and disregard of human rights had led Western civilization to the brink of disaster. Their goals included recognition of the rights of women and minorities (including people of color and homosexuals), better social services, day care for children, elimination of the disparities in salaries of men and women, better health care, and, in general, a more compassionate social ethos.

Rich has written both poetry and prose articulating her political concerns. In 1971, the same year that she wrote “Trying to Talk with a Man,” Rich was invited to participate in a forum discussing “The Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century.” She wrote an important essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” in response to that invitation. The essay speaks of the exhilaration of awakening consciousness, and of the need for women to reexamine the conditions of their lives. The conclusion argues that “The...

(The entire section is 504 words.)