Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)
In the surface reading of the poem, the speaker makes the necessary preparation, goes underwater and explores the wreck. Taking the reference of Jacques Cousteau, a naval officer in France, she reminds that she has gone under water alone. She does not have a team like that of fellow explorer. Using the ladder and her personal commitment she goes under water to find out the wreck as it is. When the speaker is going down the ladder into the ocean, we feel it big, daunting and wonderful to enter into the world of water and sea creatures. The sea and all its flora and fauna are around her when she reaches the wreck site. As she reaches down, she feels that she has played the double roles of mermaid and merman. She substitutes ‘I’ with ‘we’ and even says ‘I am she: I am he.’ She appears in both male and female roles but she is aware that her contribution will not be acknowledged therefore her name will not appear in the book of myths.
The speaker looks around and investigate the wrecked ship. She addresses with panic in short and broken phrases, whatever she notices in the wreck. We feel she is panting with quick breaths. The sharp, short and all business like tone in the poem poses an interesting disparity with the stunning, extraordinary, calm world under the water. Later in the ending lines of the poem, it seems she has now become familiar with the wave and rhythm of the underwater that is justified by the complete sentences in the final lines.
This analogy of the wreck stands for the story of the women in everyday life. In the Patriarchal social structure, women are the explorer of the wreck. They dive into the wreck, explore and manage at the same time. They are the wreck managers who bring order out of chaos. While doing that they play both roles of a merman and mermaid that is to say so called masculine and feminine qualities can be found in them. Using both qualities she dives into and explore the wreck.
Once the exploration and management is over. She is forgotten. Patriarchal social structure refuses to acknowledge her contribution. When the time to give credit comes that goes to the male. Women suffer: males are credited. Social history is written from the point of view of males. Therefore, that history is not any different from the myth. In this respect, this poem is a criticism of the exclusive history of the society.
This poem is rich in symbolism. The title itself is highly symbolic in meaning that diving and the shipwreck suggests her wish to go back and find out what caused her life so damaging. In this sense, this poem intends to self-exploration and correcting the faults of self. Her dive into the dark deep water symbolizes the dangerous journey into the self. The use of ladders and slowly going down the water refers to her hesitancy to face her past self again. The ladder is another important symbol in the poem. It serves as the way to enter into the self and if she wishes to quit the journey to self, she could easily go back up. The journey to the sea is not easy as it refers to the journey to self and every difficult task is finally rewarded; she is also rewarded by the finding of the damage in the shipwreck. The damage was in the deepest part of the ship which symbolically suggest that her heart is hurt and damaged by the patriarchal social convention. She realizes that partiality and unfair treatment is done to the female by the male dominated society and the society has to face the unexpected wreck. The unexpected wreck is discrimination to female on the basis of gender and the lagging behind in the development of humanity.
In Adrienne Rich’s poem, we find a journey of the women. In this poem too, the speaker goes from outside to inside. But her journey is the journey from ignorance to realization. Until, she goes under water, she does not know the problems and consequences of diving into the wreck. Only at the end of the poem she comes to this realization.