Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises.
It is only a door.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

12 Comments

  1. gulsen says:

    as far as i see, all the comments about this poem approaches the subject as immigration, homeland etc. i would like to mention that adrienne rich discovered that she was a lesbian, when she was married and had children. so “the door” may also symbolize her situation as to whether to accept her new identity or not.. at last, she chooses to accept it, to go through the door, and divorces from her husband, which leads him to commit suicide and die..

  2. Nickolaus Eck says:

    I’m doing this english report and we have to read this poem……..that’s it.

  3. Jerry says:

    it is a good poem and it has a meaning to it

  4. yann rolland says:

    there are always doors to open in life, not only for immigrants, and we never know what we will find behind…This poem inspires me and suddendly i like the doors… Or not…Who knows ?

  5. Tarun says:

    This poem is the most memorable poem for me than any of other poems that I have read, because I myself is an immigrant and it means so much for me. I love the way Andrienne Rich compared the port of entry to the door and giving an alternative to the immigrants to stay or not. The most important line that I think is the one that says “If you go through there is always the risk of remembering your name” because during 1920’s when people immigrated from Europe, US used to change their names for a reason that they couldn’t prounce their names. I dont think that was a good act because changing names is bad, its so hard for them that they cant even remember their name.
    Tarun, 14

  6. John says:

    this peom was awsum it provided me with alot of detail about multi rasism acts and help me along with my essay:)..

  7. Kathrin says:

    Comment number four states that Adrienne Rich was jewish, which is not quit correct. Her father was jewish but she defined herself over the female line. So she was raised by her family after christian beliefs. And also why should she not have white roots, she definetly is white in the first place, if her belief is christian or jewish is a second thing.
    Nevertheless one has to acknowledge that at a point in her life she faced her partly jewish roots (see essay: split at the root), so this poem could deal with jews or any people considered the ‘other’ immigrating to another country or just having the guts to open the door and not knowing what is behind. Also the poem focus on the question of identity: is it possible to live in a country and stick to your own beliefs which may not be the beliefs of the majority. With opening the door Rich could also refer to herself when she opened the door and acknoledged that she is a lesbian not knowing what the consequences would be.

  8. Rao says:

    I believe that comment #4 above is most appropriate.
    However there is still a door! There are not many legal doors any more anywhere else! A door without any promise is better than none!!

  9. Chana says:

    I think the above reading is way off. Adrienne Rich never had to look seriously at her “white roots” because she didn’t have them; she was Jewish. And maintaining attitudes is not cast in a negative context, but listed with living worthily – she implies that it is good.

    If you go through
    there is always the risk
    of remembering your name.

    Remembering one’s name – the antithesis of assimilation. To remember one’s name is to remember tribal affiliations, family, and origin. This was especially true for Jewish immigrants, who went from using the Hebraic construct “Yitzhak ben Ya’akov” to Isaac (or even Ida) Jacobs.

    Things look at you doubly
    and you must look back
    and let them happen.

    Perhaps the difficulty of adapting to a dual perspective, with the mother culture and the American ideals at conflict.

    If you do not go through
    it is possible
    to live worthily

    to maintain your attitudes
    to hold your position

    First generation American Jews found it very difficult to live according to tradition; America gave them the freedom to assimilate, and most welcomed it. It was much easier to follow strict rules in the European ghettos, where keeping Mosaic Laws was the norm.

    to die bravely

    In pogroms, wars, and gas chambers – the eventual ends of the ones who stayed behind.

    but much will blind you,
    much will evade you,
    at what cost who knows?

    The Rabbis taught that to immigrate to American was to cease being Jewish; that their families would assimilate and fade away in a few generations. Many, many families stayed in Europe because of this, and often only part of a family would come over. This strikes me as another of her poems heavily influnced by the Holocaust – people stayed behind so they wouldn’t cease to exist as Jews, and were annihilated.

    Just my two cents.

  10. maggot says:

    Please see “A Promise and a Way of Life: White Anti-Racist Activism” by Becky Thompson for some great analysis of this poem. Thompson takes it to be referring to the choice faced by white people about whether to go through the door and take on the struggle against racial prejuduice, as opposed “to maintain your attitudes/to hold your position”. In that context, the risk of remembering one’s name is the very serious risk inherent in looking honestly at my own white roots, where I might discover that my ancestors were slave traders or massacred indigenous people at Wounded Knee.

  11. Nick Johnson says:

    I have read this poem a number of times and I believe this poem is about immigrants and how they have a choice to leave their country or not. The part: “The door makes no promises”, I believe means that nobody is going to promise you that you are going to have a wonderful, joyous life in the new country, it is only a door, to go through or not to go through.

  12. Merree says:

    The metaphor of a door is intensely powerful to me; and the idea of doors I haven’t opened, brushed past on my way to somewhere else haunts me, always. I don’t know that what I say here is meaningful or insightful, or anything spectacular in any way, but I do know that this poem has always been one that so resonates with me that it seems a crime to not say something…and I do not want to brush past that door.

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