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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

Fall 2004
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00am - 12:15 pm
Room: CPR 348

Class 22

Reading Assignment:

    Poetry: From Poems Selected and New 1950-1974 (61-72)
      From an Old House in America (63-72)

    DUE: Group B: Post 11

POEM TO ANNOTATE: From an Old House in America (63-72)

    Class Objectives:

  • Analyze Rich's poems of the 1970s: considering the themes of sexual discrimination, confrontations with history, integration of divided consciousness, lesbian sexuality; and beginning to see her concern with nationhood and Jewish identity.

  • To examine the changes in style with the longer poems that express Rich's social vision

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions


    "From an Old House in America" (p. 63) is a complex poem in sixteen parts. These sections demand to be understood both as discrete poems and as part of the larger progress or process that is the whole poem. In this series, it is important again to recognize the importance of place. What is significant about the setting of the poem? What is important about the age of the house? What is important about the setting of a house as opposed to an apartment or a field or a street? What is significant about the country?

    As the sections progress, we begin to understand how place affects the thought of the speaker, how the objects in her presence remind her of a past that is not accessible. This initiates an imaginative journey through the past and back to the present by the end of the poem. How does the poet/speaker attempt to connect with the past? What is the significance of these objects, these actions?

    In part five the speaker makes an abrupt jump back to the present, and she addresses "you". What can you infer about her conflicts and their conflicts from sections 5 and 6?

    Examine the imagery of section 7. Who is the speaking "I" of this part? What are her characteristics? What identities does she include? What is the meaning of these multiple female voices of the past?

    Section 8 again returns to the present: "Tonight, in this northeast kingdom." What does she observe in the presence around her? What is their significance?

    "I would simplify / by naming the complexity" (132-133): this line sums up the purpose of the poem. What is it that Rich is naming in this stanza? What is "this separation of powers"? What is "the allotment of suffering"? And how does this fit in the context of the poem "from an old house in America"?

    In stanza 11 the speaker appears to come to a crux in her thought-process: "A dream of tenderness / wrestles with all I know of history / I cannot now lie down" (172-174). What are the implications of these conflicting images? How do we understand the suicidal imagery? What are the implications of the sexual imagery? What is the source of the danger?

    Sections 12, 13, 14, and 15 deal with the conflicts between the sexes that arise out of myths and fears of heterosexuality. They also represent a dialogue at the present state of the crisis. What does Rich attribute to "lust" and "fear"? What reasons does she suggest for man's hatred of women? What are the implications of the gendered dialogue in section 15?

    Section 15 insists on the necessity of looking at the damage. Why is it important to see the damage done by fear and hatred? What is the role of history in the lives of the living? What does the imagery of judgment and tenderness suggest? Who is the "She" who awaits your coming? What does the poem project as a future?

    Why is the last section a necessary conclusion to the prediction of section 15? What does the speaker say to women about the future? Explicate the lines "because the line dividing /lucidity from darkness / is yet to be marked out" (247-249). How is the frontier woman like the feminist poet?

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