Adrienne Rich’s poem, "Origins and History of Consciousness" comes from her book The Dream of a Common Language, and it looks at the poet’s relationship with poetry, lovers, and the women who came before her. In the beginning of the poem, Rich describes her room, the contents which inform her relationships, the starkness of the walls where nothing was before the poems, the books, the women:
No one lives in this room
without confronting the whiteness of the wall
behind the poems, planks of books,
photographs of dead heroines.
Without contemplating last and late
The true nature of poetry. The drive
to connect. The dream of a common language.
Rich writes about lovers, and she delves into heterosexual and lesbian relationships, of not being able to be open about her own relationship, even though she longs to connect:
Thinking of lovers, their blind faith, their
my envy is not simple.
She uses the metaphor of drowning in the ocean to describe what it’s like to come back to reality after being absorbed by someone. In this case, the acute particularity is what can sometimes be a harsh reality.
What is not simple: to wake from drowning
where the ocean beat inside us like an
into this common, acute particularity
These two selves who walked half a lifetime
She talks about trust, about loving again:
It’s simple to wake from sleep with a stranger,
dress, go out, drink coffee,
enter a life again. It isn’t simple
to wake from sleep into the neighborhood
of one neither strange nor familiar
to whom we have chosen to trust.
Here she describes again the difficulties of having to hide their love and how that can make life feel not full, not real:
But I can’t call it life until we start to move
beyond this secret circle of fire
where our bodies are giant shadows flung on a