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By Adrienne Rich

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
astronomer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster   

a monster in the shape of a woman   

the skies are full of them


a woman      ‘in the snow

among the Clocks and instruments   

or measuring the ground with poles’


in her 98 years to discover   

8 comets


she whom the moon ruled   

like us

levitating into the night sky   

riding the polished lenses


Galaxies of women, there

doing penance for impetuousness   

ribs chilled   

in those spaces    of the mind


An eye,


          ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’

          from the mad webs of Uranusborg


                                                            encountering the NOVA   


every impulse of light exploding


from the core

as life flies out of us


             Tycho whispering at last

             ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’


What we see, we see   

and seeing is changing


the light that shrivels a mountain   

and leaves a man alive


Heartbeat of the pulsar

heart sweating through my body


The radio impulse   

pouring in from Taurus


         I am bombarded yet         I stand


I have been standing all my life in the   

direct path of a battery of signals

the most accurately transmitted most   

untranslatable language in the universe

I am a galactic cloud so deep      so invo-

luted that a light wave could take 15   

years to travel through me       And has   

taken      I am an instrument in the shape   

of a woman trying to translate pulsations   

into images    for the relief of the body   

and the reconstruction of the mind.


Notes:

The epigraph of this poem was originally omitted in the changeover to the new website. Because of this, reciting the epigraph is optional for the 2019-2020 Poetry Out Loud season.

Adrienne Rich, "Planetarium"  from Collected Poems: 1950-2012. Copyright © 2016 by The Adrienne Rich Literary Trust.  Copyright © 1971 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc..

Source: The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002)

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Poet Bio

Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich, born in Baltimore, Maryland, was a leading American poet with nineteen volumes of poetry and four books of essays. Rich was at the forefront of the feminist movement and brought her politics into poetry. She gained early fame when W.H. Auden selected A Change of World as winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1951. Since then, she won numerous awards including the National Book Award and the first Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. For many years she lived and taught in California.

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