Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 265
Adrienne Rich's feminist poem "Planetarium" is about the struggle women face in a society which views any woman as "a monster" if she does not conform to social expectations. Rich's introductory note, italicized at the beginning of the poem, explains that she was inspired by Caroline Hersch, the sister of astronomer William Hersch. Caroline was never acknowledged in her field the way her brother was; Rich's poem describes her as diligently employing herself, throughout her "98 years" on earth, in the discovery of 8 comets, making it especially incredible that she is so little recognized. Caroline is depicted putting "instruments" to work in this endeavor, using poles to measure the ground and make her calculations.
This specific woman, however, is only one among "galaxies" of similar women who are also "ruled" by the moon and struggling against the force of the "NOVA" that is life. These women are not defined beyond the fact that they exhibit some form of "impetuousness" which led society to distrust or reject them.
The other primary character in the poem is the speaker herself, arguably Rich. In the final section of the poem—the poem does not really have what we would call stanzas—the speaker turns her eye upon herself as an "instrument," standing in the midst of a "battery" of "signals" which she struggles to parse. Rich uses vivid imagery to suggest that women like her are constantly attempting to translate a never-ending series of confusing signals directed at them by a society which is not clear about what it wants—except for women to be anything other than themselves.