Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264
“Origins and History of Consciousness,” is a poem by critically-acclaimed poet Adrienne Rich. It appears in the collection The Dream of a Common Language. The poem is divided into three sections, and each one explores a particular theme or idea.
The first part uses symbolism and analogies to articulate various issues in literature regarding women, female writers in particular. For instance, the presence of a white wall symbolizes Wite-Out—used by typists to erase errors on a typewritten document—and how the contributions of female writers have been erased from history.
The first section also explores the theme of searching for the roots of female literary tradition. Rich works like an archaeologist to try to uncover the buried history of women's literature. By trying to connect the past with the present, Rich is able to envision a future in which a common language can bridge these gaps.
This theme—the search for poetry's meaning and application in social, linguistic, and political contexts—is evident in her other works, such as her later essays on sexual identities.
The second part of the poem examines the conflict between the poet's private life and public expression of their personal lives. Rich concludes that a writer's life is very much like the literary works they create in that life is fluid in nature, prone to overlapping like molten lava.
The final part of the poem presents an acknowledgement of the problems in a female writer's life, and it concludes that studying the "origins and history" of those issues would lead to the formation of a more holistic life.
Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 201
Writing and Authorship:
Writing and authorship are the focus of the first part of Adrienne Rich's poem. She paints a picture of a disorganized room, where the writer is both critiquing herself and drinking alcohol. It's messy and cluttered. She explains though that writing and authorship don't mean anything without understanding what's beneath it. There are walls behind the pinned poems that the writer has to understand. These ideas of writing and authorship also connect to the wider idea of the world being full of people who will read those things. She says that the true nature of poetry is in part "the dream of a common language."
Public vs Private Life:
Another theme if the difference between public and private lives. Rich writes about how we have to connect our experiences and our lives with each other. Our experiences overlap and combine to create a more complete person. She talks about waking up in the bed of her lover and then having to go out into the public world of the city. You might trust one person, but it takes work to accept and open up to larger, more communal experiences. She describes this as lowering herself down a rope.