Write the critical appreciation, highlighting lines and major themes, of Adrienne Rich's poem, "I Dream I'm the Death of Orpheus."

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In "I Dream I'm the Death of Orpheus," the speaker asserts her strength and independence as a female poet. She asserts that she is "a woman in the prime of life," but that her "powers (are) severely limited / by authorities whose faces (she) rarely see(s)." The speaker alludes to the struggle of a female poet to assert her voice in a male-dominated, patriarchal world. The faceless "authorities" represent that patriarchy and those who uphold it.

In the poem, the speaker drives "through a landscape of twilight and thorns," with the dead body of Orpheus in her car. Orpheus is a figure from Greek mythology, and was renowned for being a great musician and poet. In this poem, the dead body of Orpheus represents the male-dominated literary tradition. This is exactly what the female poet seeks to overturn.

With this in mind, the speaker driving Orpheus "through a landscape of twilight" is symbolic of the death of one era, and thus the beginning of another. The dying era is the era of male dominance. The era dawning is one when female poets can use their own voices. The fact that "thorns" crowd the speaker’s route symbolizes how difficult the transition from one era to the next can be.

The seven repetitions of the phrase "a woman" throughout the poem emphasize the centrality of the speaker’s identity. Phrases like "a woman feeling the fullness of her powers" and "A woman with a mission" show that this is a poem about female empowerment. At the end of the poem the speaker says that "her dead poet," Orpheus, must learn "to walk backward against the wind." She suggests that with the transition from one era to the next, male writers must learn to do what female writers before them had to do. Female writers had to "walk backward against the wind," where the wind represents limitations and difficulties inherent to a male-dominated world. The fact that women had to "walk backward" suggests that women had to find their own way to any of their goals. At the end of the poem, the speaker says that it is now time for male and female writers to switch places.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on March 10, 2020
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