The Dream of a Common Language is a collection of poetry written by a woman, about women, for women. This book was the first that Adrienne Rich published after she publicly came out as a lesbian in 1976. In this book her life and work become an integrated whole; in lesbianism her most intimate personal relationships become a reflection of her political and social idealism.
The collection is divided into three sections. The first, “Power,” is about the accomplishments of individual women. The opening poem about Marie Curie announces one of Rich’s themes. Her ideology champions the common women. In “Power,” about a famous or uncommon woman, Marie Curie’s power, radiation, becomes the source of her wounds. Rich is searching in her poetry for a common language for the ordinary woman. In “Origins and History of Consciousness” she articulates this theme, as well as the theme of connection, a community of women. She concludes: “the true nature of poetry. The drive/ to connect. The dream of a common language.”
The second section of the book, “Twenty-one Love Poems,” is the open proclamation of Rich’s sexual preference. The poems are filled with the yearning for a lasting mature relationship, as when she writes: “Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time/ for years of missing each other.” The language of this section is lyrical, even ecstatic, yet the poems also include the prosaic details of women’s daily lives. They are also openly, radically, explicit about the love-making between women. Rich is brave, confident, about her newly acknowledged lesbianism. Her lesbianism is her conscious choice. “I choose to walk here. And to draw this circle.”
In the final section, “Not Somewhere Else, but Here,” Adrienne Rich continues her exploration of female relationships. In “Natural Resources,” she lists some elements of the lives of common women, “the loving humdrum acts/ of attention to this house.” In the final poem, “Transcendental Etude,” Rich celebrates woman’s power to create with common or ordinary materials in a metaphor of quilt-making. In this poem, two women create “a whole new poetry beginning here.”
Throughout The Dream of a Common Language, Rich’s language and poems express the knowledge that her art is based on her being a woman. She explores the nature of language and poetry with this concept as a basis for “a whole new poetry,” “the dream of a common language.”