Amends: Adrienne Rich. Think Think Inc’s unseen poetry analysis (IB, A Level, iGCSE, CIE)

Hi, today we’re going to take a look at
Adrienne Rich’s poem Amen’d from the Cambridge IGCSE anthology. If you’re
using this video to prepare for an unseen exam then click on the link to
the poem in the description box below, annotate it, write your thesis statement
and introduction and come back and compare it with the one that I’ve
written at the end of the video. On nights like this, what could be better
than to gaze at the beauty of the night sky…
Well, actually, according to Adrienne Rich one or two things. She likes to see a
cold night with the light of the moon that is just so. That’s pretty good. She
also wants something else. A tree or two, but not just any tree, an apple tree. And
the light of a star or two exploding from the bark of the apple tree: Poof
Poof. For Adrienne Rich there’s something unique about the quality of this setting
that makes it perfect for Amends. So whilst you work out what these literary
symbols stand for: the moonlight, the apple tree, I’ll sit here and feel the
love of the universe. Just there well maybe just there. That’s as close as I am
going to get for today and with that I’m ready to annotate. So, let’s start. Here’s
Blake’s Temptation and Fall of Eve. See the glow of that tree!. When Adam and Eve
eat the Apple in the Garden of Eden it brings on self-awareness.And with
self-awareness comes the knowledge of our own vulnerability. And with the
knowledge of our own vulnerability comes the knowledge of vulnerability of others.
And with that comes the capacity to do them harm or good. Hence the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil. Rich’s apple tree however is associated with
making amends. It represents a healing of some of the destruction mankind has
wreaked on the planet and themselves after the initial encounter with the
original apple tree. The second major symbol Rich refers to
in the opening verse is the moon or more precisely moonlight. Whereas
traditionally the Sun was represented by Apollo and is masculine – here he is
gallivanting across the Palace of Versailles being very very macho. Well
done Apollo! The moonlight with its changing phases and the ability to
reflect light was considered feminine. Here is Isis, the moon goddess to the
Egyptians. Nighttime is also considered a feminine literary symbol. It’s associated
with dreams, the subconscious and of course the moon. So Rich seems to be
proposing that feminine symbols, nighttime and moonlight can help redress
or make amends for the destruction created after our initial encounter with
the apple tree. Okay, so with that information let’s take a look at the
poem in detail. The title Amends means to compensate for a wrongdoing. Usually the
person who has committed the offense is the one to make amends but that’s not
necessarily the case in this poem. It begins with an incomplete sentence:
Nights like this. It has no verb and is followed by a colon and a gap. Rich is
introducing the scene. After the colon comes one long sentence that defines the
sort of night she is discussing. The apple bough of the opening line is
probably a reference to the apple tree in Eden but Rich alters it with a white
star then another exploding out of the bark. Light is usually associated with the
force for the good and the verb explode while it certainly makes it dramatic. On
nights like this, the apple tree explodes with light. It’s not certain where the
light is coming from. I assume it’s not a literal star
exploding from the bark. So it’s either reflecting the starlight
or the moonlight that’s referenced in the next line. After the second colon,
the speaker describes the journey of the moonlight. It begins at the foot of the
tree and ends in verse 4 on the eyelids of the tremulous sleepers. It is the
moonlight the speaker thinks that on nights like this attempts to make amends
for our destructive habits. Initially the moonlight is personified as picking at
small stones then greater ones. It seems to travel a long way across the ocean with
the surf. the verb ‘rises’ and the image ‘laying its cheek’ suggests it’s in
harmony with the natural environment. It licks and flows and flicks, suggesting a
fluidity to its movement and the repetition of ‘as it’ enhances the idea of
a journey. This poem is a sequence of images. Verse 2 finishes with ‘flicks
across the tracks’ We’ve already seen in Duffy and Baldwin rail tracks often
separate very different types of neighborhood and that’s the case here too.
Verses 3 and 4 move from natural images to images of man-made wounds to the
environment. So the final two verses have five more clauses starting with ‘as it’ as
the moonlight continues its journey. At the start of verse three ‘unavailing’ is
used as an adverb, the ly is missing. It’s a little bit like ‘think different’
or think differently from the Apple slogan only Adrienne Rich got there before Steve
Jobs! Unavailing means without success or achieving little. The moonlight cannot
heal the gash of the quarry – gash has connotations of wound. The destructive
image is how mankind’s effect on the environment is
portrayed in this poem. The final image of the verse, as the moonlight leans
across crop-dusting plane, is another attempt by man to manipulate the
environment at the expense of the ecosystem. In the
final verse Rich uses verbs that suggest moonlight penetrates,
rather than flows over subjects. It soaks through cracks into the trailers. The use
of enjambment suggests it’s the trailers that are tremulous with sleep. However
since there’s only one punctuation mark in these two verses I imagine the phrase
refers to the sleepers and not the trailers. The adjective tremulous is
derived from tremble and so this is not an easy or restful sleep.
It’s an anxious nervous sleep. Humans are at odds with themselves as well as the
environment. The final line reveals the point of the moonlight’s journey: it dwells
upon the eyelids of the sleepers as if to make amends. It’s reminiscent of
Macbeth’s great speech: Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, the death
of each day’s life. Macbeth here suggests sleep itself is what brings balm to a
troubled mind. Well let’s take a look at how we might turn this into an
introduction with a what, a how, and a why. In her poem Amends, Rich proposes that
the feminine symbols of night time and moonlight can redress or make amends for mankind’s destruction of self and the environment. She does this by
detailing the moonlight’s journey from a distant apple tree over the sea to its
eventual rest on a fitful sleeper’s eyelid. She is suggesting nature’s
redressing or making amends for the damage we have caused after our initial
encounter with the Biblical apple tree. Personally I can’t say that I’m that
fond of this poem .I find the imagery and underlying idea utterly unconvincing.
That’s just my opinion. If you have a different opinion or a different
interpretation then leave it with some love in the comments section below and
as ever this is Think Think Think, no it’s not,
it’s Think Think Inc. thanking you you

One Reply to “Amends: Adrienne Rich. Think Think Inc’s unseen poetry analysis (IB, A Level, iGCSE, CIE)”

  1. I agree, a genuinely unconvincing poem which requires too many leaps and stretches to dredge any meaning from. Could the apple blossoms mentioned not be metaphorical stars? Apple blossoms are five petalled little beauties and their exploding out of the bark one at a time could introduce the movement of the moonlight. It is dramatic, light coming from dark, and would tie in with the reading of the poem I think, while also providing a contrast in the natural beauty offered by nature and the relative ugliness of manmade stuff.

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