Study Guide

Power The Body

By Adrienne Rich

The Body

"Power" is about the decay, and eventual death, of Marie Curie's body. But Rich also describes the earth in bodily imagery and draws a connection between the Curie's body and the earth itself. In this way, Rich connects up different branches of science (much as Curie herself did) and asks us to make connections between the human and the earth.

  • Line 2: The speaker personifies the earth, and describes its "flank," as if it had flesh. 
  • Lines 3-4: The amber bottle is filled with liquid that will supposedly cure all kinds of bodily ailments, from fever to melancholy. Yeah right, liquid. We don't believe in magic (and you can bet Curie didn't believe in it either).
  • Lines 7-9: Here we find out that Curie was "bombarded" (a pretty intense and violent word) by radiation. The speaker thinks that Curie must have understood what was happening to her body, even as she denied it. Could Marie really be that blind to what was going on? 
  • Lines 10-13: Now we get the deets on the radiation poisoning, and it ain't pretty. Curie's fingertips are filled with pus, her skin is cracking, her eyes have developed cataracts. Her work has taken a palpable toll on her body. 
  • Lines 14-17: Ah, the irony: Curie's scientific life work, which gave her power, ultimately destroyed her body and left her dead. She denied that her "wounds     came     from the same source as her power" until the very end—perhaps refusing to see, or at least to admit, the toll that some work takes on the human body.