Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Collected Early Poems, 1950-1970, by Adrienne Rich, traces her work’s development from formal and tightly structured poems to loose and very consciously feminist ones. Rich’s first book was A Change of World, published in 1951 in the Yale Younger Poets series. It appeared when she was only twenty-two, and W. H. Auden, who selected the book for the Yale award, described the poems as modest and “craftsmanlike.” The models for the style and form of the poems in this book were, according to Rich, all male. The book contains many imitations of such male poets as Auden, Robert Frost, and William Butler Yeats.

The second book of poems by Rich was The Diamond Cutters (1955). Its subject matter and style vary slightly from the earlier works, although formalism is still dominant. Many of the poems deal with marriage or other relationships and are set in Europe, since Rich was traveling on a Guggenheim Fellowship during this period. There is also more irony and humor in the poems, especially in “Living in Sin.” Irony was one of the important poetic strategies in the male-dominated New Criticism.

The next book, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, was the breakthrough volume for Rich. It clearly shows the change in Rich’s poetry from formalism to feminism. Here her work is more direct in approach and very different in subject matter. The title poem announces the change in perspective as Rich deals forcefully...

(The entire section is 538 words.)