Adrienne Rich’s Use Of Free Verse In “Diving Into The Wreck”

Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Diving Into the Wreck”, uses free verse to break away from the male-dominated literary tradition. Her poem addresses past literature’s role for women while expressing hope for the next generation. Rich’s reclamation to literary tradition is achieved by her choice and context.

The poem’s opening lines set the tone for a difficult read. She begins, “Having read the Book of Myths/ and loaded camera/and checked the edge on the knife-blade.” She first shows a book she describes as a collection. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED 2003), myth refers to “a common but untrue or incorrect belief; a commonly held misconception; misrepresentation about the truth”. The misrepresentation is also printed. It is based on literary sources. The mere mention of “myth” raises the reader’s interest to discover the truth. The line’s enjambment adds to this effect. The line break that follows “myth”, keeps the reader’s eyes on the subject for a second before moving on to the next line. As the reader searches for falsification, the second line presents a concrete image: a camera. The camera sets the tone for exploration in the poem. The third line will repeat the same thing: the enjambment places the emphasis on what is in front of the camera. Cameras are used to capture the reality of life without distortion. The creation of new ideas is the challenge of this poem’s exploration. Rich hopes to reinvent literary tradition’s myths by inserting her photographs, which are her authentic images.

This line shows how peaceful exploration can become dangerously edged. The dangers of doing so are made clear to the reader as she “checked” the knife-blade’s edge. Rich brings the knife to check it out and plans to use it. This imagery is reminiscent of hunting traditions. Adrienne Rich is not carrying a scope or rifle. She brings a knife and a digital camera. Rich donned “the body armour” wetsuit as well as “the grave and awkward masque” throughout the first line. Rich will brave all adversity to explore the world for herself.

Adrienne Rich is able to freely choose the enjambments by using free verse through the first stanza. The form also allows the line to be emphasized by itself. The activity’s loneliness is amplified by the shortening of lines such as “I puton”. She is her only identity. The reader is able to feel more of the adventure’s solitude because she can use free verse to reduce the length of her lines. The reader can understand the stark contrast between Rich’s dress and Cousteau’s “assiduous group” by the simplicity of “I put it on”. Rich will be a writer and explore the depths alone, where science will require many explorers.

Rich will explore these depths herself, while Cousteau will go with his team of men’s assistants. Literature is built on the writing of men. Females were not educated, and it was rare for them to be encouraged to publish. Because of this, literature is dominated by male visions. Rich’s poem focuses on restoring that persona for females in literature. She will achieve that persona by changing into a sexually ambiguous suit.

Its “body armor of black rubber…absurd Flippers…grave, and awful mask” covers her parts that would indicate she is female. The effect of the shetsuit is multiplied when she uses free verse. Her poem doesn’t follow the established forms of poetry. She isn’t on Cousteau or with the troubadours responsible for creating the villanelle. Rich hides her sex by using free verse.

The ladder is Rich’s symbol. Rich uses Rich’s ladder to symbolize rebirth. The ladder hangs “innocently” and suggests childhood innocence. She begins to feel the “oxygen…the bluelight…the clearatoms/ of human air” as she drops it into her new environment. Her new appendages, flippers, make it impossible for her to walk. It’s an amazing birthing experience. The ladder motion of going down a second rung rung at a time is very similar to that of an eye moving down a line of text line by line. Rich will be diving into the literary tradition as the poem is being written.

Rich’s participation in the literary traditions blends form with free verse. She finds herself becoming less of a writer as she dives deeper into the waters. She uses an iambic trimeter to regain consciousness. Rich regains legitimacy and her breathing by using meter at the end of her free verse. She ends her stanza by saying that she must learn how the sea, the male-dominated literary traditions, can be manipulated. It is possible to do this by using just two lines in iambic Meter. She gives the poem legitimacy by using a regular sounding meter.

Rich considers herself to be different than those around, people who have “always/lived here”. Rich isn’t a man and thus, she isn’t deprived from the existence in literary history. She is nevertheless there to examine the effects of gender sexism since the beginnings of literary history. The female figure in literature is represented by the wreck. Adrienne Rich plays with this theme. She “strokes” the ship with her actions. She doesn’t seem to think it is abusive, and she is very gentle. Rich continues to expand the double imagery. Rich says that the ship is “more persistent/than fish/weed.” Rich also challenges the antiquated notion that women are to be treated like objects. Rich stated that the woman she is referring to is more durable than any animal or plant.

She then declares that she intends to recover the truth regarding women. She came to seek “the wreck and no story about the wreck.” She brought her digital camera to capture this truth. Her diction continues the double imagery of ship/female, with a “face”, “ribs”, and “threadbare”. Rich continues to use the metaphor of diving into the wreck as both a “mermaid”, and “merman”, She isn’t interested in being labelled as male or female because she is a writer from the literary tradition. Rich is changing her image to be sexually androgynous. Rich is both a male and a female writer. This is evident in the first stanza. Rich uses an alternate line rhyme to show that she is capable of taking part in both the male-dominated literary tradition as well as the modern androgynous style of free verse.

Rich’s conclusion states that both the writer and the reader can “find out/back to that scene” the sexual connotation of language. She inspires readers to find their own myths and to erase their names from this book. The writer cannot escape its limitations like form unless he or she understands literary traditions and expectations, such at rhyme and meter.

Rich’s use for free verse in her poem “Diving Into the Wreck”, demonstrates the value of literary tradition. Rich’s use free verse poses a challenge for the poets who came before her, but is also flexible enough that she can incorporate the stylistic elements of tradition to maximize their power. Her ability to mix antiquated with modern forms allows her to reclaim the feminine identity in literature. Rich can also help to reclaim literary tradition to be one that is sexual androgyny. Free verse replaces the villanelle/sestina form that might have been used by male writers.


  • davidwong

    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.