Summary and Analysis of Power by Adrienne Rich

About the Poet:

Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012) was not only a poet and an essayist but also, a radical American feminist. Born in Baltimore, Adrienne was the eldest among the three sisters in her family. She acquired her college diploma at the Radcliffe College, after which her love for poetry grew and soon she was awarded the Yale series of Younger Poets Award by poet W. H. Auden himself. She later received a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied at Oxford for a year. She spent her remaining years writing in Europe and wandering around the lands of Italy.

Introduction to Power:

The poet, Adrienne Rich epitomizes the value that the late scientist Marie Curie gave to her work as a researcher. She speaks of Marie Curie who after being much effected physically by her experiments, refused to admit it to be the reason that soon turned into the cause of her death. Adrienne narrates as to how strong-willed and selfless Marie Curie was in the efforts of making our lives easier today. Her research has now enabled mankind to get rid of ailments from her inventions. The poet writes this poem as an ode to Marie Curie who gave the world a ray of hope in spite of it being the death of her.

Setting of Power:

The poem begins with the narrative of the great value that “one bottle amber” brings to cure fever or even a cold. There is also an emphasis on how it’s a cure that lies within the “earth-deposit of our history”. The subjectivity of the poem slowly changes to Marie Curie who probably knew about the research experiments she conducted taking a toll over her health, but yet she continued to work on her scientific research that was her constant source of mental and emotional energy and hence denied any effect of it on her, until her last breath. She is hence described by the poet as the woman who “denied her wounds came from the same source as her power.”

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Poetic Devices in Power:

Line 4: “cure for fever or a melancholy”
Line 7: “she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness”
Line 8: “her body bombarded for years by the element”
Line 10: “seems she denied”
Line 12: “the cracked and suppurating skin”
Line 13: “till she could no longer hold a test-tube”
Line 14: “she died a famous woman denying”
Line 15: “wounds came from the same source”
Personification/ Metaphor:
Line 1: “Living in the earth-deposits of our history”
Line 2: “Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth”
Line 12: “the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends”
Line 17: “her wounds came from the same source as her power”
In the last line that says “denying her wounds came from the same source as her power”, Adrienne refers to the Marie Curie’s dedication in the field of research on radioactivity. The entire narration narrows down to this one line that dictates over the entire poem.

Summary of Power:

The poem is an ode to the bravery and strong heart of Marie Curie whose great efforts in the field of radioactive research has changed our lives today. Adrienne Rich as a radical feminist wished to devote this poem to Marie Curie for her undying efforts in creating a better life for the generations ahead of her. Marie Curie suffered to a great extent from the exposure to chemicals that we expelled in her experiments, but never was it an obstacle between her work and her passion. Her love for her work and the extent of her devotion to it, which was in fact the power to her existence is what Adrienne talks about in this poem.

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Critical Analysis of Power:

This poem pays reverence to the late scientist Marie Curie who risked her life for the sake of her research which was her greatest source of power. Adrienne Rich, being a whole-hearted feminist, dedicated this poem to send the message of true courage and devotion by a woman in history, through the means of a poem. Marie Curie’s great sacrifice is shown as an act of honour to promote a true role model to the people and especially the women of the future generations. Adrienne Rich beautifully promotes Marie Curie in a different light. She makes people aware not only for her great achievements in radioactive research, but for the true brave woman that she was for preserving and fighting against all odds to keep doing what she rightfully believed in.

Central Idea of Power:

Adrienne Rich’s poem revolves around the later years in the life of scientist Marie Curie who had suffered to a great extent from the effects of her research experiments. Her wounds were so deep that even had to undergo cataract operations at one point, but through it all she denied any relation of it with her research work. She believed deeply in her work which was her source of power, but what she didn’t get herself to realize was that it was also the source of all her suffering. Adrienne puts forward Marie Curie as an example of great female leaders whose hidden struggle was not known to many. She urges the women of both-her time and of the future generations to learn from Curie’s sacrifice and strive for such power in their lives.

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Tone of Power:

The poem begins with Adrienne mentioning the valuable and curable characteristics of the elements now made possible to access due to the invention of radiation technology. She later talks about recently having read about Marie Curie’s radiation sickness. She also mentioned that she learnt about Curie’s knowledge of the harmful effects the radiation was having on her but yet denied to acknowledge any of that information and kept moving ahead with her research until her time of death. The poet says that she was a woman who denied the source of her power, which was her research, to be the cause of her wounds too and died in that oblivion to gift the world with her invention.


This poem is recited as an ode to the famous scientist Marie Curie who in the most literal terms gave her life to the cause of radioactive radiation research. Adrienne being the radical feminist that she was, narrates this poem so as to set an encouraging example for the future’s female population to work and strive to achieve excellence in dedicating complete devotion to their passion and live a life as glorious as that of Marie Curie’s.
Contributor: Deeksha Honawar