Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Through its allusions to mythology, anecdotes from the history of astronomy, and final personal declaration, “Planetarium” depicts a moment of awakening consciousness. Rich states, in metaphorical terms, that she is at last seeing things clearly and is consequently taking a stand.

During the late 1960’s, Rich was struggling to learn truths about herself and about the traditional female roles—wife and mother—that she had filled in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. In those earlier years, she experienced intense feelings of anger, conflict, and failure that she sought—desperately sought, she says—to understand. The “mad webs of Uranisborg” in “Planetarium” echo the “dark webs” (as she herself put it) that she groped among in those years.

Beginning with references to the women shaped like monsters that inhabit the sky—representing the distorted identities that men have given to women who refuse to fit into prescribed social roles—the poem moves to its closing declaration of independence both from those limited roles and from the old wrongheaded perceptions of those who refuse those roles. The power to change things begins with awareness. Astronomy, concerned with “observing” the sky—with vision—here embodies the struggle for that awareness. Rich frequently speaks of “instruments,” of objects that can assist in the struggle to gain knowledge or freedom; sometimes, as here, the instrument and the person...

(The entire section is 449 words.)