DIVING INTO THE WRECK BY ADRIENNE RICH
Submitted To: THE ENGLISH ACADEMY
Submitted By: Mansib Ali Hashmi
At the literal level of the poem, the speaker of “Diving into the Wreck,” who could be either male or female, is in a schooner out at sea, preparing to dive into the ocean in search of a wreck. The journey she (assuming a female speaker) is about to take is both external and internal, since she is also journeying into the depths of her own psyche and, symbolically, into history and society. Taking with her a camera and a knife, she puts on her rubber diving outfit, including mask and flippers. Then she comments that unlike Jacques Cousteau, the famous twentieth-century French marine explorer, she has no team of helpers to assist her; she is going to dive alone. There is a ladder hanging from the side of the schooner, and the speaker descends. As she begins her descent she is very conscious of the daylight and the air, the normal, familiar environment in which humans live. Her flippers make her feel uncomfortable as she descends the ladder with difficulty, conscious of the fact that she is alone, with no one to guide her.
She reaches the water and descends into it, conscious of how her visual environment has changed from the blue of the sky to the green of the water, which quickly turns to black. She is grateful for her mask and now has to learn how to move underwater, which is much different from moving about on land and requires a new set of skills. As she surveys the scene underwater, observing the teeming marine life, she realizes that she must focus her mind on the purpose of her dive and not forget it. The speaker reminds herself that she has come to explore the remains of a sunken ship. She wants to examine the extent of the damage the wreck has suffered and also to find what valuables remain.
The speaker explains that what she really wants is to find out the true condition of the ship, which may not be the same as what she has read or heard about it. The conventional wisdom about the ship may only be a myth. Just before she arrives at the wreck, she pictures to herself the effigy of a female face that was carved on the prow of the old sailing ship, which always looked upward, and she thinks of the damage the wreck has undergone in all the years it has spent underwater, with just a skeleton of its form remaining. She finally arrives at the wreck in stanza 8 and imagines herself as a mermaid that can take both male and female form. In this kind of imaginative androgynous form, she swims all around the wreck and enters its hold. She refers again to the female face on the prow and then appears to find the ship’s cargo of precious metals inside rotting barrels. She also discovers the messy, worn-away remnants of other parts of the ship’s equipment, including its log and compass. The poem ends with an affirmation of the importance of making such a journey, whatever the motivation for undertaking it. The allusion here is clearly to the journey as one of inner exploration in search of the truth, the real truth as opposed to what others may have said.
IMPORTANT THEMES IN DIVING into THE WRECK
The Search for Truth
Although the poem can be read at the literal level, it is really about the exploration of the areas of the speaker’s mind, heart, and experience of life that have, for whatever reason, not been examined before. It relates a journey from the conscious, surface levels of the mind, the everyday reality of life, to the deeper subconscious levels that have been ignored, repressed, or distorted by self and others. The schooner on which the poet stands is the metaphoric equivalent of the everyday world: it exists in the daylight and the sunlight. The water into which the poet dives represents the deeper levels of the mind, and the ship discovered there represents the parts of the psyche that have not been consciously acknowledged. The poet is determined to discover the truth about these murky, unexplored regions, which is why she takes with her a knife (to dissect what she finds and to distinguish truth from falsehood) and a camera, which will record with absolute fidelity and without distortion what is truly present. There will be no convenient distortions to make life more superficially comfortable: the truth must be faced.
· Adrienne Rich Reading at Stanford was produced by the Stanford Program for Recordings in Sound in 1973. Rich reads fourteen of her poems on the recording, including “Diving into the Wreck.”
· That this is a difficult undertaking is made abundantly clear because the speaker has to don uncomfortable clothing, complete with mask, rubber diving suit, and flippers, and get used to exploring unfamiliar regions. Different skills are called for than those that equip a person to succeed in everyday life, in which people may be compelled to adopt surface personas that are far from the truth of who they really are. And yet these subconscious regions of the mind, including desires, feelings, and hopes that have been repressed perhaps since childhood because the conscious mind decided that they were unacceptable, contain vital elements that are necessary for the person’s psyche to be whole. This is clear from the fact that the cargo of the wreck contained precious metals, many of which remain within the shell of the sunken ship, waiting to be rediscovered by the intrepid explorer. This section of the poem (the penultimate stanza) also suggests the wisdom inherent in the deeper, unconscious levels of the psyche, since it refers to the instruments that once kept the ship on course. …
DIVING INTO THE WRECK POEM ANALYSIS
Adrienne Rich uses an observational, detached tone in “Diving into the Wreck” to write a detailed poem that focuses on humanity; storytellers as observers, recorders, and explorers; and the isolation of life; as well as the shared community found through the experience of story, through the mythical inner journey of the writer who makes such things possible.
From the beginning, the speaker is in a unique position of being alone and yet connected to others.
“I am having to do this/not like Cousteau with his/ assiduous team/aboard the un-flooded schooner/but here alone.”
Notice that the most stand-out image in this piece is of the ‘sun-flooded schooner’, which though it is contrasted to the speaker’s own journey and not used to describe it, still sticks in the mind’s image of the setting. Tonally, it’s a statement with no overt emotion attached to it, as will persist throughout the rest of the poem except arguably in the very last paragraphs, near its climax. The feelings present at the beginning of the poem are less intense than they will become later, though at no point will the speaker ever reveal these feelings explicitly.
“There is a ladder./The ladders always there/hanging innocently/close to the side of the schooner./We know what it is for,/we who have used it.”
Here the speaker brings the reader into the poem for the first time by use of the word ‘we’, she is still alone, and yet not exactly alone, because she is following where others have gone before, a passage that has been experienced and documented by others, and which she now feels she must take herself. She is not talking of the physical ladder; here it represents a journey or doorway. An invitation. Taking the invitation, prepared physically and mentally as much as it is possible to be, she goes down alone, for though connected to the others that have taken this journey before her, she must travel it by herself.
“There is no one/to tell me when the ocean/will begin.”
It is a mythic story that she is now embarking on. Again, there is the reminder that she is alone,
“I have to learn alone/to turn my body without force/in the deep element”
Once under the water “it is easy to forget/what I came for … 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.” Story, maps, words… to tell the story, to experience the story, she has to dive into the wreck. She cannot see from the boat above the surface of the waves what the wreck is but must rely on her book of myths. Because she rejects those myths or more precisely seeks to go beyond them, further than they allow, she comes into the water, taking her own journey to find:
“the wreck and not the story of the wreck/the thing itself and not the myth”
a journey that is indeed
“another story … not a question of power.”
It is only in finding the wreck that she comes into deeper contact with those others who have taken the journey, as shown by the changing narration in the poem from I to we. Suddenly she is no longer alone. Interestingly, this is also where the strict reality and calm emotions that characterized the first section of the poem are supplanted by a more mythical, symbolic reality and emotionally-charged atmosphere. First, the speaker is joined by others and then, in effect, becomes the wreck itself. For there is no understanding of the wreck without becoming it, if only for a moment.
“The androgyny of the diver suggests not an original unity but the common bond of incompleteness, loss, and disrepair shared by all selves” (Templeton)
In shared loneliness, all those who have made the journey come together, and through the telling of the poem, the speaker gives the reader some of that gift, that understanding. Those on the journey have not lost themselves; this is in no way a journey of loss but of discovery, and healing. They are still explorers, still writers, still storytellers,
“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.”
In the end, through the use of a detached tone that never lands her too solidly on one side or the other, Adrienne Rich communicates detailed images of isolation and community that cause us to think deeply. The writer is ultimately a figure that bridges both sides of human existence.