Diving Into the Wreck

Diving Into the Wreck

By Adrienne Rich

First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
assiduous team
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.

There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he

whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.

Summary of Diving into the Wreck

  • Popularity of “Diving into the Wreck”: Written by Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck” first hit the shelves in Britain in 1973, and quickly won the hearts of feminists, activists, and other progressive thinkers. Better known for its unusual imagery and metaphors, the poem presents an explorer, descending into the depths of the ocean, equipped with a camera and a knife to show a symbolic journey of exploration and reclamation. The presentation of he and she simultaneously and then the act of confusing on both genders have made this poem a classic piece of feminism and queer literature. That is why it has found its place in global anthologies and textbooks.
  • “Diving into the Wreck” As a Representative of Feminist Reality: “Diving into the Wreck” is often seen as a representative work of feminist poetry, as it explores themes of female empowerment, identity, and self-discovery through the metaphor of scuba diving. The poem is both a personal and political statement. The reason is it delves into the depths of the ocean and the psyche of a scuba diver to uncover hidden truths and challenge the dominant patriarchal narratives of the time. Rich invites readers to question and challenge the limitations placed upon women, both in society and within themselves, through this narrative. The poem shows the use of the imagery of cameras, knives, and salvaged treasures to indicate the power of creativity and resilience when confronting adversity. In short, the poem represents the women’s agency.
  • Major Themes in “Diving into the Wreck”: “Diving into the Wreck” focuses on self-discovery, exploration, and the power of language. The speaker’s journey represents a journey toward self-discovery. The speaker, who happens to be a female, explores the wreck and discovers both its damage and its treasures. The theme of exploration shows her knowing that she must navigate her way through the unknown. The poem also shows the power of language emphasized through the use of the “book of myths” and the importance of words as “purposes” and “maps” in guiding the journey. Although the ladder serves as a symbol of access to knowledge and power, it is only for those who have used it before understanding its purpose. The poem also persuades its readers not to rely on myths and stories and explore things to understand them.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Diving into the Wreck

Adrienne Rich’s dexterity in using multiple literary devices is well known.  She used various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of this poem. Some of the major literary devices are as follows.

  1. Allusion: It is a reference to a mythological, cultural, social, or religious figure or text. The poem alludes to “the book of myths” (line 1) – a collection of ancient stories and legends.
  2. Anaphora: It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses. For example, the repetition of “the (lines 61-64), whose (78-79), and “the” (lines 84-85) show these repetitions at the start of consecutive lines, emphasizing the speaker’s descent into the ocean.
  3. Assonance: It is the repetition of vowel sounds within words in close proximity. For example, line 29, shows the repetition of the short “i” sound in “My flippers cripple me” which creates a musical effect.
  4. Consonance: It is the repetition of consonant sounds within words close to each other. For example, line 30 shows the use of the /k/ sound, “I crawl like an insect down the ladder” to create a musical rhythm in the poem.
  5. Enjambment: It is the continuation of a sentence or clause without a pause beyond the end of a line or stanza, such as lines 34 to 43 show starting with “First the air is blue and then….in the deep element.” The sentence continues from line 34 to line 35, maintaining the flow of thought.
  6. Hyperbole: It is an exaggeration for emphasis or dramatic effect, such as in line 40. It says that “the sea is not a question of power,” exaggerating the vastness and incomprehensibility of the sea.
  7. Imagery: It is the use of descriptive language to create sensory impressions such as lines 24 to 28 show the use of oxygen, blue light, clear aims, and human air to show the use of different images. They appeal to the senses, painting a vivid picture of the underwater environment.
  8. Irony: It is the expression of meaning that is the opposite of the literal interpretation. This is clear in lines 46 and 47, such as “so many who have always / lived here” which ironically emphasize the permanence of the wrecks and the transient nature of human life.
  9. Metaphor: It is the comparison between two unrelated things without using “like” or “as” such as in lines 59 and 60. The poet compares the wreck to something “more permanent than fish or weed,” suggesting its enduring presence amidst the changing elements.
  10. Personification: It is the attribution of human characteristics to non-human entities. For example, lines 68-69 show the poem describing the “ribs of the disaster” as “curving their assertion,” personifying the wreck’s structural remains.
  11. Symbolism: It is the use of an object or element to represent a deeper meaning. For example, the line 73 mentions the mermaid and merman, symbolizing the human connection to the underwater world.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Diving into the Wreck

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: Diction refers to the writer’s choice of words and phrases in a literary work. “Diving Into the Wreck” shows simple and straightforward diction, comprising monosyllabic words and concrete imagery.
  2. Free Verse: It refers to the absence of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme. “Diving Into the Wreck” shows the use of free verse without a consistent meter.
  3. Poem Type: “Diving into the Wreck” is a narrative poem that tells a story through the speaker’s journey of exploring a wrecked ship.
  4. Stanza: “Diving into the Wreck” is divided into 10 stanzas of varying lengths.
  5. Tone: Tone refers to the attitude or emotional stance of the writer or speaker towards the subject matter of the poem. The tone of “Diving into the Wreck” is contemplative and reflective, with a sense of determination and a desire for exploration.

Quotes to be Used

This quote could be used when talking about the power of language and its ability to guide us toward our goals. It could be used in a motivational speech or a discussion about the importance of communication.

The words are purposes.
The words are maps.