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.