as it is not as we wish it
as it is not as we work for it
You hear in that "I told you from the first" something of the moral rectitude that could make Rich both annoying and bracing. She was capable of a prescriptivism that could be damaging to both politics and poetry -- and wrote about that risk in poems like "North American Time":
When my dreams showed signsWhat felt like righteousness, though, was also a consciousness of privilege and of the duties Rich obviously felt as a white, North American, middle-class woman to make use of the power she had to try to effect change. You could say she exaggerated the amount of control women had over their lives, as she seems to do in a line like, "Only she who says / she did not choose, is the loser in the end" (XV, "Twenty-One Love Poems") -- Or you could say she recognized that no amount of oppression ever let one off the hook. We are all to some degree responsible for our lives and accountable to our moment in history -- "the life of your tribe / the breath of your planet," as she puts it in "North American Time."
no unruly images
escaping beyond borders
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies' usage
then I began to wonder
Adrienne Rich gave voice to our dreams, and she demanded that we work to make those dreams real. Rich has moved on, too soon, alas, but the work, of course, continues. We realize now it isn't just women's work, as we might have supposed in earlier, separatist moments. It's all our work, and we'd better get to it. Because somewhere, we might imagine, Rich and her friend and sister/warrior Audre Lorde are impatiently waiting for us "to perform the needed acts" ("Toward the Solstice"). Let's get started, shall we?