The Afterwake by Adrienne Rich: Theme

The Afterwake is the awakening of women in the late twentieth century. The title also suggests that the poem is about the experience and determination of the women after the waking of their consciousness.

Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

Though the poem is apparently about a nurse who is exhausted by her night duty, it is clear from the second stanza that the poem is thematically about her determination to march ahead with others like her in order to bring their own day after the night of others’ service.

The poem conveys the message that the woman is a revolutionary determined to pursue her ‘colossal’ purposes in her collective struggle ahead; the speaker communicates this theme only in a subtle and implied manner. In the first stanza, we only see a woman who has aroused her own nerves while nursing the nerves of a man. In the morning, she is outside and alone. She now feels, like an exhausted midwife, how hard it is to go her own way after being so tired. But in the second stanza, she has gathered up her courage. She says that she is with ‘her’, another woman. They will be going on the ‘livid’ road under the morning star with the load of their ‘colossal’ purpose until some ‘scissor snips the air’. She implies that she and her peer will be inspired by their ambition. The star is a symbol of ambition; the speaker also uses the word ‘purpose’ with a modifier ‘colossal’ which means ‘very big’. The ‘livid’ road could also mean the road of revolution, for the word could also mean ‘angry’. And though their purpose will drain on the way, they are determined to go their own way.

In short, the central theme of the poem is the determination of the women of the late nineteen seventies who were determined to join hands and make their own way ahead in order to become politically, socio- economically, culturally and professionally independent.

Cite this Page!

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