by Adrienne Rich
Stanza 4 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power
- In the poem's final stanza, Rich hits us hard. All of the fragmented jerkiness of the poem's early lines comes back. As we hear of Marie's body falling apart, as we hear of her death, the poem's form follows suit, and falls apart, too.
- The speaker repeats the sentiment of the previous stanza, telling us that Curie died "a famous woman denying / her wounds." None of this is new info, but the form is new.
- Rich uses enjambment here, which means that she spreads a phrase across multiple lines of poetry. Instead of a nice smooth "She died a famous woman denying her wounds," the poem's line break splits up the phrase "denying her wounds."
- The result of this is that the poem puts oodles of pressure on the word "denying." The emphasis is not on Curie's broken or scarred body, but on her refusal to accept the truth of her body.
- Then, the speaker repeats the phrase "denying / her wounds" and spreads it across two more lines. Again, she emphasizes the denial aspect of Curie's death.
- And, in the final line, the speaker gets more specific. Instead of just "denying her wounds" in general, the speaker tells us that Curie was "denying / her wounds came from the same source of her power."
- You know that old saying: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Well in Curie's case, it's more like: what doesn't kill you now will make you weaker until it eventually kills you." Sure, that's pessimistic, but totally true when it comes to Curie.
- The interesting thing here is the idea that power—whether we define it as knowledge, discovery, the ability to change the world, the ability to change people's lives—has a downside. With the good comes the bad. That with the discovery of radiation comes radiation sickness and death.
- Or, try on this for size: maybe one must deny pain and suffering to be powerful. Maybe denial is a powerful tool after all. Maybe to have power, one must deny what's bringing her down. The poem raises this possibility, but doesn't decide on an answer.
- And what about the beginning of the poem? Well, when we compare that little amber bottle of bogus tonic to the amazing discoveries of Marie Curie, we find a tension between quack science and real science.
- And how cool is it that in this poem, the real, hard-core scientific discoveries are linked to a woman—and her power? While that little amber bottle conjures up in our minds traveling male salesmen from days long gone? We think it's pretty cool that in this poem (and hey, in real life too), scientific discovery is associated with women. Out of the earth came some silly tonic, but also out of the earth came radium and all that important stuff that Marie discovered.
- Finally, despite the pessimistic tone of the poem, Marie lived a pretty awesome life. Her work defined a century of scientific work to follow, and she remains an immensely important figure for women in science. The sad irony of her death makes her amazing life all the more sweet.
- Or does it? We'll let you answer this one for yourself.