Diving into the Wreck

By Adrienne Rich

Diving-into-the-wreckFirst having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,

I put on

the body-armor of black rubber

the absurd flippers

the grave and awkward mask.

I am having to do this

not like Cousteau with his

assiduous team

aboard the sun-flooded schooner

but here alone.

There is a ladder.

The ladder is always there

hanging innocently

close to the side of the schooner.

We know what it is for,

we who have used it.


it is a piece of maritime floss

some sundry equipment.

I go down.

Rung after rung and still

the oxygen immerses me

the blue light

the clear atoms

of our human air.

I go down.

My flippers cripple me,

I crawl like an insect down the ladder

and there is no one

to tell me when the ocean

will begin.

Read the whole poem

Mark Strand on “Diving into the Wreck” (from The Making of a Poem):

Diving into the Wreck” employs subtle yet fierce arguments with the poetic tradition, while elaborating on and subverting the shadows, plays and past of canonical power. The speaker has the authoritative tone of a speaker in the grand tradition. But the enterprise is entirely different. Whereas poets of the past meditated on the power and eloquence of expression, this poem – with its open weave of phrase, stanza, vernacular, and off-kilter music – puts that voice at the service of powerlessness and silence. The form challenges the past while adding to it: This is a poem that mixes a panorama of the narrative, the lyric, and the dream convention to achieve its powerful conclusion.

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