Diving into the Wreck
by Adrienne Rich
Stanzas VI & VII Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
- At the beginning of this section, things become more abstract.
- Up until now, we've been hearing a straightforward story about a diver entering the water.
- Now the speaker steps back and talks about why she came here, and what this journey is about.
- She has heard or read about this wreck before (maybe in that "book of myths" we read about in line 1).
- But reading about something is not the same as seeing and touching it.
- As the speaker says: "The words are purposes. The words are maps" (53-4).
- Isn't that why we travel, why we explore? You can hear about the Pyramids in Egypt, listen to stories, talk about going there, and even get directions.
- But none of that is the same as going there.
- Of course we as readers have to deal with the fact that this poem is just words.
- We are hearing about this dive, but not actually doing it. We get the "purposes" and the "maps" but maybe not the thing itself.
- So that's the general idea behind these few lines.
- But it probably won't surprise you to hear that we aren't just talking about a shipwreck here. She won't come out and say it, but Rich is pointing us toward other issues.
- These words could apply to many kinds of wrecks, many different disasters.
- When we are struck with disaster, we always have to ask: what did we lose, and what is left behind?
- That's what the speaker means by "the damage that was done and the treasure that prevails" (55-56). We're dealing with some serious symbolism in these lines.
- Could these images apply to a war, a natural disaster, a divorce, or a death in the family?
- Definitely something to keep in mind as you read.
- Meanwhile, we've arrived at the ship. The beam of the speaker's light sweeps across its "flank" (side) and we know we're there.
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
- So the diver has arrived at the goal, "the thing I came for" (61).
- We have heard about the wreck, but now we are faced with it.
- The speaker wants to make this very clear: we aren't dealing with stereotypes, myths, or stories anymore. We are faced with the reality of tragedy and disaster.
- But what exactly are we seeing?
- Literally, it seems to be a sunken ship.
- There are dead bodies inside, including a "drowned face" (64) staring upward.
- The wreck has been eaten away by the force of the sea, leaving only a worn out shell.
- When the speaker talks about the "ribs of the disaster" (68), we imagine that she is talking about the strong beams that make up the frame of the boat.
- Even when the sides have worn away, there is still a skeleton of the boat left behind.
- When we read about those ribs, it might be hard not to think about the drowned face we've just seen in the wreck. We think that's very much intentional.
- This is a description of a silent, even beautiful underwater sight. But it's also the scene of a tragedy, a place where people have died.
- Maybe those "tentative haunters" (70) are just fish swimming in the wreck. But we can't help but imagine the ghosts of those people who drowned, still haunting the ship.