Study Guide

Power Science

By Adrienne Rich


Science looms large in "Power"; after all, it's a poem about Marie Curie, one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century. But science isn't always a good thing. As we see in the poem, there's the quack (or fake) science of 100 years ago, and there's also the sickness that accompanies science: after discovering radium, Curie died of radiation poisoning. We have images of all kinds of science in "Power," and one of the most interesting things in the poem is that it presents a whole bunch of perspectives on the field.

  • Lines 1-4: Science is at first introduced as a little bottle of amber liquid nestled deep in the earth. While geology is real, and geological knowledge is valuable, this bottle is, frankly, useless. It's a relic of a past, when cure-all tonics promised to solve all kinds of problems that they never could. 
  • Lines 6-9: Here, Curie is introduced, and the speaker supposes that she must have known that her research into radium was making her sick. 
  • Lines 10-13: Now we find out the specific bodily details about Curie's radium poisoning. The effect of her research is made manifest in her body. The images of her pus-filled fingers and cracked skin are heartbreaking and really, really gross. 
  • Lines 14-17: In the final lines of the poem, Rich figures science as "power." Yes, Curie died from her research, but her research was also the source of her intelligence, fame, and power. Science can hurt as much as it helps, the poem seems to say.