Adrienne Rich

By Sean Carroll | March 29, 2012 9:13 am

Adrienne Rich, one of the leading American poets of the 20th century, died on Tuesday at the age of 82. Anything you read about her will emphasize her identity as a feminist and a lesbian, which is perfectly appropriate, but don’t let it get in the way of the fact that she was an amazingly inventive and affecting poet. She was also widely admired as a lecturer and essayist. (And I can only imagine she would have cringed at the line in the NYT obit where it says she “burst genteelly onto the scene as a Radcliffe senior in the early 1950s.” Is bursting something one can do genteelly?)

This is the ending of “Planetarium,” about Caroline Herschel; the entire poem is here.

I have been standing all my life in the
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep           so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15
years to travel through me            And has
taken           I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images            for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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