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Power

Power

by Adrienne Rich

Stanzas 1-2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 1

Living      in the earth-deposits       of our history

  • We're gonna be honest with you: we've got a whole lot of questions about this first line of "Power."
  • Here are a few: who's speaking? What's up with those funky big spaces between words? Who is the "our" of "our history"? And what the heck is "living in the earth-deposits"?
  • We'll be able to answer these questions as we continue reading the poem (we promise!) but let's start off by listing what we do know about this poem. 
  • We've got an unnamed speaker. We'll refer to her as "she," because, well, Rich is a woman, and she has a tendency to write autobiographical-ish poems. We can't say that Rich = the Speaker for sure, though—we have no facts to support this hypothesis. 
  • This speaker assumes a shared history between herself and her readers (yup, that's right, she's talking to us). There's a sense of community going on as the speaker uses the word "our." 
  • And finally, the speaker is making a connection between natural history—geology, sedimentation (basically all that good stuff you learned in earth science)—and human history. There's something human, something "living" in the "earth-deposits," or the layers of rock, sand, and earth. Cue the creepy music.

Lines 2-5

Today a backhoe divulged       out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle       amber        perfect       a hundred-year-old
cure for fever       or melancholy       a tonic
for living on this earth       in the winters of this climate

  • Okay, now we've got a bunch more information dropped in our laps. Let's take it slow. 
  • First we find out that a backhoe—basically a huge digging/excavation machine—dug up a bottle of amber liquid. 
  • This bottle is a hundred years old, and it seems to be one of those old-timey "tonics," or elixirs, or fake medicinal drinks. You know, the type of thing that was supposed to solve all your problems—everything from burning fevers to melancholy (a fancy word for really intense sadness). The kind of thing that traveling salesmen sold to naïve country people in the 19th century. Or, for all you Potter fans out there, it's kind of like a Felix Felicis that makes everything in your life better. (And of course, we all know that such a thing is impossible in the Muggle world.)
  • Now let's dig a little deeper. (Yes, pun intended.) If we think back to the first line of the poem, we realize that we're being told a little story, or an anecdote. Today, the speaker tells us, a backhoe dug up a little bottle of tonic out of the "earth-deposits." 
  • What's interesting about all this is the speaker's diction. This little bottle has been "divulged" from the earth—it's like the earth has told a secret. And the earth is described as a "crumbling flank." "Flank" is a word that we often use to describes a part of a body, and so it seems like the earth's body is falling apart and spilling all its secrets.
  • Why's that important? Well we see in these lines a personification of the earth. The earth seems like a living thing. It's got a flank. It can divulge. 
  • And what is it divulging? It's divulging a super-old bottle of fake medicine, a tonic that might be a cure for fever, melancholy, or even a cure for "living on this earth" in general. The tonic is a fake cure-all. 
  • And the phrase "in the winters of this climate" seem to be about the dark times on earth—the times when living is hard, when you are melancholic or ill.
  • "Winters" is often a symbol for difficult times in general. 
  • If we zoom out, just a bit, one thing we notice about these lines is that they have tons of big spaces between words—"one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old." This makes the lines seem incredibly jumpy and fractured. 
  • The thoughts don't seem whole—there is a distance between them, as if, in this moment, the speaker is turning the bottle of tonic over in her hands, and noting all of its qualities. There's no smoothness to this discovery; it's like the speaker is learning about the amber in fits and starts, though we have no proof that the speaker is even looking at the bottle herself.
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