First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Adrienne Rich's poem Diving into the Wreck


  1. Ruby says:

    I love all her poems and this poem is a true masterpiece. In few lines she has explained such important modes of life, the base of poem is depended upon different professions and i personally believe it is rather a one line story of events occurring around us, making it beautiful and distinguished among other of her literary works.

  2. Sage says:

    I actually really like this poem and believe that it hold both feminist and just overall human meanings. I do believe there is such thing as over analyzing a poem but there is also such thing as not giving the author enough credit for her intelligence. Obviously if you have read anything about the author’s life you would know she is a very intelligent person and MLH is just an example of those people who don’t like deep thinking. There is nothing wrong with analyzing a poem to figure out if there is a deeper meaning, sometimes there really isn’t but usually the authors of poems are trying to get us to think…. so THINK!

  3. Ashley Page says:

    Mike Strazzire – It’s awful sad that you are critisizing someone who is trying to understand a really significant piece of poetry, while being pretty off base yourself. Considering you’re in a literary forum, it seems as though it would be more beneficial to everyone if you would help foster a comfortable learning environment for others by not being hostile. My first read through I took it literally, and after reading it a second time started to understand that this poem is the account of a females journey into adulthood, and independence. There is too much to leave all here, but everytime I read it I come away with something new. My suggestion to people who are doing a literal reading is to keep reviewing it, and you will see more to it. Jeremy D, you described pretty much exactly what I came away with, as well as many of my classmates.

  4. mike strazzire says:

    the poem is a metaphor for finding the work of women long lost and forgotten. it is, and never was, about an actual shipwreck. It’s called figurative language…look into it some time before you show how dumb you really are by opening your mouth.

  5. Jeremy D. says:

    The fact is, this poem evokes far deeper a meaning of personal growth and understanding than several of you can gather. Not to sound like an arrogant prick, but if you read this poem and think, for a second, that it is not a reference to her rebirth of self and furthermore realization that she is, in fact, capable of doing anything and everything set in front of her without the help of a “man” or a dictator of some sort, then you are sorely mistaken. The line: “I am she: I am he” clearly defines the thought that she, the narrator, has embraced the ability to be self-governing and dependent upon no one but herself alone.

    If you’re interested in an interesting parallel look at the notions of “hembrismo” offered in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel: “Chronicle of a Death Foretold;” in particular, focus on the character Maria Alejandrina Cervantes…

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Why can’t this just be a poem about a ship wreck? Why do you have to find some hidden meaning with every poem?

  7. Isabel says:

    When I first started to read the poem I thought it was about a reporter going into the war to capture and experience events that had been going on, regardless if they were a man/woman. As I read further down they would describe how days/nighhts were perceived to them as days were spent there. I think Rich was writing from a Soldier/Marines type of view. Even if I am wrong about my views I do not believe that Rich was writing about broken marriages- or suicides or anything that has to do with our own problems ..I believe she was trying to define as she saw it and how it affected everyone in general being a man/woman.

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