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The Dream of a Common Language
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The Dream of a Common Language

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  2,179 ratings  ·  119 reviews
"Rich's poems do not demand the willing suspension of disbelief. They demand belief, and it is a measure of her success as a poet that most of the time they get it. . . . The affirmation and the occasional moments of pure joy in these poems are quiet but fully earned."--Margaret Atwood, New York Times Book Review
Paperback, 96 pages
Published April 17th 1993 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published December 31st 1978)
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Community Reviews

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This apartment full of books could crack open
to the thick jaws, the bulging eyes
of monsters, easily: Once open the books, you have to face
the underside of everything you’ve loved—
the rack and pincers held in readiness, the gag
even the best voices have had to mumble through,
the silence burying unwanted children—
women, deviants, witnesses—in desert sand.
Kenneth tells me he’s been arranging his books
so he can look at Blake and Kafka while he types;
yes; and we still have to reckon with Swift
Carol. [All cynic, all the time]
May 31, 2012 Carol. [All cynic, all the time] rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: poetry lovers, writers, feminists, people who enjoy reflection
Rich is one of my favorite poets, and there are few words to describe how beautiful and thoughtful these poems are. This slim volume is divided into three sections, "Power," "Twenty-One Love Poems," and "Not Somewhere Else, But Here." This is one of her later collections, written after receiving the National Book Award, and is remarkable for it's openness in writing about sexuality, power and violence against women.

"Twenty-One Love Poems" is perfection, a distilled experience of a relationship a...more
Wow. This is Real Poetry. Raw and beautiful emotion and tragedy. I felt rather embarrassed to be reading some of these - just from the sense of intimacy that they portrayed, I felt as though I was an ugly intruder upon that.

Copied almost all of these down. Power, the 21 love poems. Now to decide which ones to commit to memory.
Origins and History of Consciousness


Night-life. Letters, journals, bourbon
sloshed in the glass. Poems crucified on the wall,
dissected, their bird-wings severed
like trophies. No one lives in this room
without living through some kind of crisis.

No one lives in this room
without confronting the whiteness of the wall
behind the poems, planks of books,
photographs of dead heroines.
Without contemplating last and late
the true nature of poetry. The drive
to connect. The dream of a common language.

My dear friend gave me this book after finishing Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed.
This book by Adrienne Rich apparently was the ONE Cheryl cherished the most and refused to give up.

The epigraph at the beginning by H.D. sets the tone:
I go where I love and where I am loved
into the snow:

I go to the things I love
with no thought of duty or pity.

3 sections: Power; Love poems; Not Somewhere Else But Here.

I enjoy her lyrical reflections and language. Take for insta...more
the poem, "floating, unnumbered" showed me just how a poem can be read and appreciated for its beauty in words, but once fully experienced in ones own life, only then does the poem enter your body
Lisa M.
When I was 16 I went to a prestigious art camp. One of our instructors, Pit Pinegar, came to camp with a few books to give away. She held this one up, describing it merely as “poetry by a lesbian poet.” Or perhaps she used the word “feminist.” As a young girl whose life revolved around reading zines, listening to punk, and trying to get girls to kiss me, this appealed to me so I raised my hand high and received the book. It is a beat up, stained, first edition.

I had read a few poems from this c...more
Jeanine Walker
This book reminded me initially of Jonathan Lear's Love and Its Place in Nature. For Rich, as for Lear, love is a part of nature, and Rich's book––rhetorical in nature––argues for a reconstitution of this love, argues against the rhythms our cultures impose on us. As anyone who knows her poetry can guess, the love Rich suggests moves against patriarchal traditions, and she works within these poems from a strong, feminist stance.

Larger than a label, though, Rich moves through this book with a cle...more
Jan 07, 2008 Megan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Megan by: Anita Skeen
This book contains 'Twenty-One Love Poems' which came out as a pamphlet and is pretty hard to find. 'Twenty-One Love Poems' is Rich's first overtly lesbian poetry, I think, and is generally really excellent and important work. 'Twenty-One Love Poems' is some of the most beautiful and erotic lesbian poetry, but it's also incredibly socially conscious. I think the lines "two women together is a work/nothing in civilization has made simple" is an excellent sample of the subject matter dealt with in...more
The adage is that Adrienne Rich's "Dream of a Common Language" is a book "by a woman, for women, about women" – but the project seems to be about more than that. Divided into three sections, this volume of poem develops at the rate of a woman, progressing through stages of self-aware maidenhood in the first section, called Power:

"Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
it seems she...more
Matthew Hittinger
"Twenty One Love Poems" was a pivotal sequence for me, especially as I grew to understand why I tend to write in sequences. I spent the month of December that year transcribing one poem each day, rewriting and retyping each word to really inhabit what she had done on the page.
This collection accompanied me on a solitary road trip over the summer. I hiked into the property that I grew up on and camped in the woods. Those woods are haunted with all kinds of angsty, melancholic and beautiful memories of my adolescence. These poems were the perfect companion.

Cartographies of Silence is wound around the short-comings of language. Here, the desperation of loneliness and isolation are composed into something mythical. That music gives "a ground of meaning to our pain" true...more
It's awfully hard to rate a book of poetry, because it's not necessarily a unified whole like a novel or a biography. Some of the poems in this book are godawful, and others are quietly thrilling. Adrienne Rich, at her best, is one of my favorites, especially when she uses nature and relationship to describe and overlap each other. In her strongest narratives, she twists initially simple phrases, side-stepping expectation, and arriving at crystalline images that upend the reader's understanding...more
Beautiful richness in this compilation of poems from 1974-7.

I go where I love and where I am loved,
into the snow;

HD, The Flowering of the Rod
(born Hilda Doolittle; September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961)

Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev

to bring each other here
choosing ourselves each other and this life
whose every breath and grasp and further foothold
is somewhere still enacted and continuing


It isn’t simple
to wake from sleep into the neighborhood
of one neither...more
I don't know why it took me so long to read Rich, but I'm incredibly grateful that I've found her now. This book is stunning and honest and, damn, do I want to write like this woman when I grow up.
Raise your hand if you read this because of Cheryl Strayed!

But, yeah, it did not strike a chord in me. I want to appreciate the lesbian that lived in San Fransisco in the 70's...but, it turns out, my heart was not moved.

UNTIL. This last poem. I would slough through any book of poems for a gem like this at the end.

Transcendental Etude

This August evening I've been driving
over backroads fringed with queen anne's lace
my car startling young deer in meadows-one
gave a hoarse intake of her breath and...more
"Your silence today is a pond where drowned things live
I want to see raised dripping and brought into the sun."

The Dream of a Common Language is the fourth book of poetry by Adrienne Rich I have read so far in 2010- but surprisingly it is the first one I am reviewing. Out of the four books, including Your Native Land, Your Life and An Atlas of a Difficult World, my favourite is definitely Rich's debut, Diving into the Wreck however The Dream of a Common Language is a strong second. Written fro...more
maybe i should just stop 'rating' the books, i don't know. or i'll start giving all the poetry three stars as an act of both defiance and compromise, because three stars is kind of halfway and i feel like most of the time one is only ever at their halfway point in reading poetry. like, if you read it once you haven't really read it at all. i don't think i've ever truly appreciated a poem until i've read it at least five times. this is very relevant regarding adrienne rich

here's part three of "Sp...more
Carol Smith
Like many others, I was recently motivated to read this classic collection because it was the one volume Cheryl Strayed carried with her during her entire Pacific Crest Trail trek.

Certain poems in any collection will speak more to you than others according to where you find yourself in life, what your experiences have been, and where you’re trying to head. If we revisit a collection at different points in our lives, we’ll find greatest meaning in different parts of it. For me, I was most taken b...more
It surprises me I have not picked up a book of Adrienne Rich’s poems before. I have come across one occasionally, or a quote from her writing in the work of others, but for some strange reason I have not sought her out.
My mind comes alive with many other female poets I have heard read, or for whom I have even provided a stage. I even have the feeling return of entering Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party when it came to Melbourne many years after it was first initiated in America. That I recently disco...more
A concise little time capsule of a poetry book which served as a good introduction for poetry-phobic me. At a poem a day this went down quite well – and some of them quite grabbed me. Some bits I loved:
from "To a Poet"
for you are not a suicide
but no-one calls this murder
Small mouths, needy, suck you: This is love

I write this - not for you
who fight to write your own
words - fighting up the falls
but for another woman - dumb
with loneliness - dust - seeping plastic bags
with children - in a house
Reread "Twenty-One Love Poems" and happy I did. It remains one of my favorite poetic sequences and is hopefully essential Rich in the way it captures all the tempers of love, tumbling between the sensual and brainy, the moment and consideration. And the "she" in the poems is often someone, discreet glimpses of her flash up in opposition to Adrianne--"I told you from the first I wanted daily life, / this island of Manhattan was enough for me")--and not just The Beloved or, for rich, the abstracte...more
I have a hard time understanding poetry. Rich's words sometimes really hooked me and astounded me with their accuracy and precision, but sometimes I got bored and didn't know why she was describing certain things. I take that as a full fault of my own. One day maybe I'll come back to this book and feel a deeper connection to it.
Love this. Some of it feels dated, but all of it feels, deeply.

Some moments that I want to keep and hold, one from each of the book's three sections:

From "Splitting":

I refuse these givens the splitting
between love and action I am choosing
not to suffer uselessly and not to use her
I choose to love this time for once
with all my intelligence

And from the love poems:

No one's fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we're not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that cha...more
I experienced a lot of loss last year. The poetry of Adrienne Rich reached into my heart and let me express it more. Isn't that what good poetry is supposed to be? A catalyst to awakening.
Brittany Wilmes
Adrienne Rich is a powerful, passionate poet. I fell in love with her writing by the second poem. Phantasia for Elvira Shatayev stunned me with its images of female strength and depth:

In the diary I wrote: now we are ready
and each of us knows it I have never loved
like this I have never seen
my own forces so taken up and shared
and given back
After the long training the early sieges
we are moving almost effortlessly in our love
Adrienne Rich was fundamental to the feminist movement, and you can see that clearly here in all of these wonderful, lyrical, memorable poems. I still think about the woman exposing the place on her chest where her breast used to be. I think about the lion that is so full of fierce pride and power, a metaphor for women. And I will never forget the beautiful love poems that were written, as it turns out, from one woman to another (and the awesome discovery that I didn't judge her for her sexualit...more

i have been reading and re-reading this collection for almost a week now. i cannot decide if my life feels like a love story because of this poetry or if i am strongly drawn to this poetry because my life already was a love story...

and i don't mean love story of the fairy tale/disney variety. i mean the love story of life, the struggle of understanding self and others. the journey of asking questions, knowing truth and feeling with your heart. the pain, despair and reward that comes with the...more
I read this book because the author, Cheryl Strayed speaks so highly of it in her book, "Wild". It is one of the few books she carries in her backpack on her trek on the Pacific Coast trail. I like modern poetry but this seemed watered down. It was gloomy and suffering and piteous but I felt excluded from the heart of the poems, so I didn't feel the author's pain, I just felt tired. I think sometimes if you are in an isolated place poetry can move you in a different way, thus maybe that's why St...more
Erin Thayer
Not sure how many times I've read this... but it never gets old.
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topics  posts  views  last activity Bo...: Adrienne Rich. 2 35 Jul 18, 2013 08:10PM  
  • The Moon Is Always Female: Poems
  • The Collected Poems
  • The Country Between Us
  • Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons
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  • Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002
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  • The Wild Iris
  • The Ten Thousand Things
  • My Alexandria
  • Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
  • Dream Work
  • Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000
  • If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
  • What the Living Do: Poems
  • The Selected Poetry
  • The Man With Night Sweats
Adrienne Rich (b. 1929). Born to a middle-class family, Rich was educated by her parents until she entered public school in the fourth grade. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe College in 1951, the same year her first book of poems, A Change of World, appeared. That volume, chosen by W. H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and her next, The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems...more
More about Adrienne Rich...
Diving Into the Wreck The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New, 1950-1984 Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution An Atlas of the Difficult World Adrienne Rich's Poetry and Prose

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“No one has imagined us. We want to live like trees,
sycamores blazing through the sulfuric air,
dappled with scars, still exuberantly budding,
our animal passion rooted in the city.”

Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate.

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power. ”
More quotes…