Her vision -- searingly honest -- was hers alone, and although she said that poetry couldn't change the world directly, hers certainly had an influence on hearts and minds.
The feminist and anti-war poet Adrienne Rich has died. Here's her obituary from the New York Times. As the Washington Post reported, her poetry and her persona were marked by a strong social consciousness:
When then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.”
“The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
USA Today's obituary gives a sense of the woman through her friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin:
"She was very courageous and very outspoken and very clear...She was a real original, and whatever she said came straight out of herself."
As Merwin noted, Rich was a hard poet to define because she went through so many phases. Or, as Rich wrote in "Delta," "If you think you can grasp me, think again."
Many of her poems were political, and they are the most celebrated. But here's one, more personal and introspective, that I like very much. It is titled "Burning Oneself Out":
We can look into the stove tonight
as into a mirror, yes,
the serrated log, the yellow-blue gaseous core
the crimson-flittered grey ash, yes.
I know inside my eyelids
and underneath my skin
Time takes hold of us like a draft
upward, drawing at the heats
in the belly, in the brain
You told me of setting your hand
into the print of a long-dead Indian
and for a moment, I knew that hand,
that print, that rock,
the sun producing powerful dreams
A word can do this
or, as tonight, the mirror of the fire
of my mind, burning as if it could go on
burning itself, burning down
feeding on everything
till there is nothing in life
that has not fed that fire