Poetry is like a protest: a constant tempo, rhythmic clapping in beat with the march, loud chanting made louder by echoes. Throughout history, poetry has been used as a powerful tool to raise your voice against social injustices. Adrienne Rich knew this well. Rich, a lesbian, feminist, Jew, and mother, embraces all of these identities and advocates for women with these and all other identities. She uses her poetry to reach across these differences and others to urge women to come together as a combined force, despite and in honor of their differences.
In “Diving into the Wreck,” the narrator embarks on a quest to explore a sunken ship, discover what caused its disaster, and salvage its remains, if any. In this poem, the sea stands as a symbol of the unconscious mind and its knowledge and desires. The dive represents a desire to reach beneath the surface for hidden meanings and to learn about the underlying desires and emotions in everything. It represents the necessity to look beyond, to not take anything at face-value. This dive is imperative for the discovery of important knowledge of the past, especially as the diver submerges deeper and deeper, discovering more and more. By the time the diver reaches the wreck, she has become a new being. The diver becomes enlightened. She comes to learn that the “myth” that was the starting point of her journey is, in fact, a myth, and it does not tell her story.
Therefore, she must return to society to tell her own, true tale. Rich’s poem describes the process of tapping into a “truth” in the world. This process is what drives people to discover truths and spur change in their lives. The poem begins with a description of the equipment she was using, a “grave and awkward mask”, and the fact that she was diving by herself, alone , “not like Cousteau with his / assiduous team/ aboard the sun-flooded schooner / but here alone.” Everything in the depths is blue, then green, and then suddenly black. The “grave and awkward” mask helps her readjust, “it pumps my blood with power.” Then, as the diver begins to acclimate to the depths and regains her composure, she remembers her purpose- she has “come to explore the wreck.” She has submerged herself underwater world because she wants “the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth.” I believe Rich uses “wreck” as a reference to the historical patriarchy in American society. For most of history, but especially at this time, men have told many “truths” as they thought they ought to be.
Men determined every single aspect of women’s lives, without reference or consideration to what women might actually want or be capable of achieving. This is why the book is referred to as a myth, since it does not describe the truth at all and, as the last line suggests, basically ignores the lives of women altogether. Rich’s poem reflects her interest in feminism and relates it to that of a heroic quest. Without those who wonder, change will never occur. Those who are curious dig deeper, just as the diver dove to the depths. This quest helps them learn their passions, which leads to the motivation to create and promote change. The feminist movement can be seen this way, as a quest. Only the strongest will persevere and keep fighting for equal rights. It is a long, hard fight that can be disappointing and frustrating. After all, this quest for equality has been ongoing for hundreds of years. I believe the poem can be read as a feminist manifesto, according to which women must learn to understand the truths of their own lives and maintain those truths in the face of male ignorance and prejudices.
Rich shows the diver as an ambiguous, androgynous figure when it is circling the wreckage. I believe this to imply that both men and women need to be liberated from restrictive gender roles. Both men and women need to take a stand to promote equality. Rich shows that it is in the interests of men, as much as women, that a more equitable society should be created. A society in which women are as free as men have always been to achieve their goals and ambitions. The wreckage that she examines has various levels of meaning. It refers to the neglected, unexamined inner lives of women, those that have been sheltered and restricted for most of history. Women have had dreams, education, and goals pushed aside for the betterment of men’s lives and goals. Additionally, it refers to civilization itself. Civilization has been destroyed by fallacies and stereotypes about gender and gender roles. For hundreds of years, men and women have been pushed into particular relationship roles based solely on their gender. Even more, men and women have had pay discrepancies for the same exact jobs. This rift has been prevalent for almost all of history.
Rich hopes to discard these falsehoods. This is what the diver discovers and uses to disprove the myths she has been told her entire life. She must return and tell the world the message she learned in the wreckage. This is the feminist movement. Rich uses poetry to express her search for the truth about women’s lives, a truth that has been repressed by men. Rich uses poetry as an outlet for her political and social frustrations, globally and within her own life. “Diving into the Wreck” illustrates both a personal message and a global one, using poetry as an outlet for her political and social frustrations.