The Afterwake by Adrienne Rich: Introduction

The Afterwake is a poem about the awakening of women in the later part of the twentieth century. On the literal level, the poem is about a nurse who is taking care of a male patient. The nurse has just passed a terrible night of nursing the man who seems to be a patient of the nerves. This has completely exhausted the nurse by the morning.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

She thinks that she is like a midwife (one who helps in delivery of a child) who has finished her job, working overnight, but has to go to her own home, far away. The speaker of the poem is also like the midwife who now has to go to her own place and take care of herself and her family with a lot of works and responsibility throughout the day. Almost losing her courage the nurse slumps (sits heavily like falling) on the parlor, with a terrible fatigue (tiredness). In the second stanza, however, the speaker changes the subject, and as if she is replying to another person, she says that she has got another woman like her, a woman who will go together with her. Though their legs are ‘tight’ with fatigue, and though they have a heavy load of ‘purpose’, she says that they will move ahead. The hint in the word ‘purpose’ suggests that on the symbolic level. The poem is about the vision of the conscious and unified women who now have decided to go their ‘own way’ after the ‘night’ of serving the male. In the symbolic sense, the speaker is the modern woman who has been tired of sacrificing her life for the male; the night is the night of history or past; the day will be the day of consciousness and awareness for the modern woman; the road is their way ahead; and there are also other suggestions about the theme of feminist movement in the poem.

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Sharma, Kedar N. "The Afterwake by Adrienne Rich: Introduction" BachelorandMaster, 16 Nov. 2013,