The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“For a Sister” is a short poem in free verse; its twenty-four lines are divided into six stanzas. It is dedicated to Natalya Gorbanevskaya, who was imprisoned in a mental asylum for her political activism. By referring to this Soviet dissident as a “sister,” the title puts the struggle of a distant and unknown woman into close relationship with the speaker. Another woman’s struggle for empowerment, the title suggests, no matter how far away she is or how little is known of her, sufficiently resembles an American feminist’s struggle that she might be called “sister.” The poem’s use of the first person expresses the personal viewpoint and experience of the poet. While often in lyric poetry the poet addresses the reader directly, in this poem the poet speaks to herself and to the absent Natalya Gorbanevskaya, while the reader overhears.

“For a Sister” begins with the poet imagining her own existence as a towchain. Like a chain, the poet feels herself twisted and pulled by various outside forces. A chain never initiates a motion; it pulls or twists only in response to being maneuvered. Even the connections, the links in the chain, are made by some external force: chance. Though it does not specify the object of the poet’s distrust, the first stanza links the poet’s caution with her experience of powerlessness. Perhaps the poet does not trust “them” because “they” are the causes of her disempowerment.

In the second and third stanzas, one learns that Adrienne Rich has read a few paragraphs about Natalya’s imprisonment. The poet does not trust the information she gathers...

(The entire section is 664 words.)