Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

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Analysis

“Diving into the Wreck” is a poem written by American poet Adrienne Rich. It was first published in 1973, as a part of Rich’s collection of poems of the same name. The poem does not have a regular rhythm or rhyme structure and is written in free verse. It consists of 10 stanzas, all of which are of similar length (between eight and twelve lines).

The poem tells the story of a scuba diver who dives into the depths of the ocean to explore a shipwreck. The speaker is unknown and genderless, at one point stating “I am she: I am he,” suggesting androgyny, or even a non-binary entity.

“Diving into the Wreck” was written during the Women’s Movement, which began in the 1960s and had a major influence on the socio-economic and political climate of the American society. It is possible that Rich chose that particular title for the poem to reflect the journey of all women who were (and still are) oppressed by the patriarchal society. Thus, the speaker (womankind), dives deep into the ocean (history) to uncover the reason why women were always seen as weak, submissive, unintelligent, and vulnerable.

However, it is interesting to mention that as the speaker swims, the water slowly turns from blue to green and ultimately to black, which signifies that the speaker gradually moves from the conscious to the subconscious state of mind. Unfortunately she/he fails to find the truth or the answers she/he was looking for. This means that all individuals should try to define their identity in their own way.

Some analysts argue that the speaker is Rich herself, and that the poem signifies her self-discovery and the start of a new life. Her 'dive' into the 'wreck' symbolizes her attempt to go back in time and explore her memories in order to find what caused her problems and what motivated her to start anew.

Nonetheless, the poem is about the exploration of one’s heart, mind, and soul and the discovering of one’s true identity. Because of this, all readers can identify with the explorer, regardless of their gender, social status, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity.

You can read Rich's "Diving into the Wreck" here.

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Diving into the Wreck” is a poem of ten stanzas in free verse. The poem is written in the first person. Sometimes poets use the first-person device to create a character who may have different values or beliefs from the author. In this case, however, no distinction between speaker and poet is suggested. The first-person voice allows the poet to address the reader directly, as if recounting her own experience.

The poem narrates the speaker’s quest as she explores a sunken ship to discover the cause of the disaster and to salvage whatever treasures remain. The sea is a traditional literary symbol of the unconscious. To dive is to probe beneath the surface for hidden meanings, to learn about one’s submerged desires and emotions. In this poem, the diver is exploring a wreck—a ship that has failed.

Preparing to dive, she reads the “book of myths” for guidance, but she must leave the book behind in order to gain direct knowledge without the intermediaries of history and language:

the thing I came for:the wreck and not the story of the wreckthe thing itself and not the myth.

She is alone in her journey. Unlike the French underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau with his many helpers, she must be alone, for the scientist may work with a team, but the quest requires isolation.

The poem is the story of a descent into the ocean to discover important knowledge of the past, to examine a wreck and to salvage the cargo. The poet describes the tools that are needed for the dive and the diver’s transformation as she descends. By the time she reaches the wreck, she has become a new kind of creature, a “she/he.” As the diver learns, the myth that was the starting point of her journey is incomplete and inadequate: It does not tell her story. She must, therefore, return to tell her own tale.

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem is an extended metaphor in which the...

(The entire section is 1,428 words.)