In “Dreamwood,” Adrienne Rich reflects on how even something as common as a cheap, wooden typing stand can inspire a poet to imaginative visions. The narrator speaks in the third person as she introduces a woman “dreaming when she should be typing.” As the woman stares at the typing stand, she sees a landscape that only a child or a poet (“the child's older self”) can see. She is lost in wonder at the detail in this everyday object and the visions it creates in her mind.
The woman ponders the “map” outlined in the wood and dreams of herself walking into this extended metaphor. The lines are ridges fading into a desert, and the woman also notices patterns that could be watering holes. The woman's imagination then takes her further as she thinks that this map could be the map of the last part of her life. It is a map of variations rather than choices. Her greatest choice has been made; she is who she is as a person and a poet, and now the map simply expresses variations “on that one great choice.” There is beauty in this map and in these variations.
The woman thinks further about the nature of poetry. It is no longer a revolution to her, no longer a way to fight against anything. Rather it is “a way of knowing.” She has gotten all this from a simple pause and a glance at a typing stand. Her dream-map stands before her, and she notes that “the material and the dream can join.” A poem and a report can work together. They are both part of reality.
The poet uses the extended metaphor of the map as she develops these ideas, and she also includes mentions of the desert and the watering hole, which suggest stages of a person's journey through life. She also compares poetry to a revolution and then notes that it no longer is that to her. By the end of the poem, the typing desk and the dream-map become symbols of everyday life and imagination that can work together as one.
The poet's tone is reflective, even musing, as she contemplates the poem's ideas. Her diction is simple yet effective, and the poem's free verse allows for a conversational syntax that also can include a few attention-grabbing turns of phrase like “ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert” and “of distances blued and purpled by romance” (notice the great use of colors as verbs here).