Did you notice how much airtime this ladder gets? Rich gives it almost twenty lines. This makes us think that there much be a lot of meaning attached to it. If this poem is about diving, why do we spend so much time on the preparation? The ladder, after all is what lets you begin, (and perhaps end), a dive.
- Line 13: Here's where the ladder is introduced. Rich merely indicates to us that it's there. But that's a lot already. It forces us to confront the image of the ladder, to think about what ladders do. We become conscious that ladders are a way to change our position, to move up or down. In this case, the move down will take the diver into another world.
- Lines 14-15: Here the ladder almost becomes a character. When the speaker describes the ladder as "hanging there innocently" that's called personification, because it gives a human quality to an object. If you aren't going down that ladder, it doesn't mean anything to you. So it looks innocent, it covers up its purpose. In reality though, it can transport you to a completely different place, which is what it does to the diver.
- Line 30: The ladder is a way down, but it is also an obstacle. The diver is already weighed down by flippers, a mask, a suit, and other diving equipment. So getting down that ladder is no small task. To show how awkward this is, Rich uses a simile, comparing the clumsy diver to an insect. The move into another world isn't going to be an easy one.