Power By Adrienne Rich | Summary, Analysis, Themes and Poetic Devices of Settinng Power

Power By Adrienne Rich: In the poem, ‘Power’, the poet Adrienne Rich epitomizes the value which the late scientist Marie Curie gave to her work as a researcher. Rich speaks about Marie Curie, who, after being much affected physically by her experiments, refused to admit it to be the reason that soon turned into the cause of her death.

Adrienne narrates about how strong-willed and selfless Marie Curie was in the efforts of making our lives easier today. Her research has now enabled humanity to get rid of ailments through her inventions.

The poet writes this poem as an epigram to Marie Curie, who gave the world and its people a ray of hope despite it being the death of her.

Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.

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 this poem slowly changes to Marie Curie, the scientist who probably knew about the research experiments she conducted taking a toll on her health.

However, she continued to work on this scientific research which was her constant source of mental and emotional energy and hence denied any effect of it on her health until she took her last breath. Thus, the poet described the woman as the woman that “denied her wounds came from the same source as her power.”

Summary Of ‘Power’

In the poem, ‘Power’, the first one-line stanza indicates the context of this poem: “the earth deposits of our history.” In the second, four-line stanza, which begins with the word “Today,” the speaker of the poem delves further into how history is embedded in the earth.

She describes a back actor digging up a field to reveal an amber bottle, which leads her to speculate on its contents – “a cure for fever or melancholy” or “a tonic for living on this earth.” Even though she does not know its actual contents, she recognizes it immediately as a type of medicine for actual ailments or the simple living task.

In the third, eight-line stanza, this line of thinking leads the speaker to a figure who was one of the inventors of medicine, i.e., Marie Curie. The poet describes in detail Curie’s radiation sickness and the ways in which her works with radioactive elements physically destroyed her body.

Despite her cataracts, loss of mobility, and cracked limbs, Curie always denied that her physical illness resulted from the work that she did with the radioactive isotopes. In the final, four-line stanza, Rich suggests twice that Marie Curie denied her wounds. Particularly, she denied that they “came from the same source as her power.”

Power Poem by Adrienne Rich Analysis

In introducing the idea of “earth-deposits of our history,” the poem’s first line serves two functions. First, it suggests that the history of humans is forever embedded and tied to the earth itself. Secondly, in introducing the idea of a “we” who possess this history, Adrienne Rich seems to specify a female audience to whom the poem is being addressed.

The second stanza of this poem has been built on the idea of a history which is enclosed within the earth and imagines digging up that history. Beginning with “Today,” the stanza emphasizes on the importance of this history for the moment at present.

In the present-tense of the poem, a large machine digging into a “crumbling flank” of the earth is observed by her. In this description, the earth at once is made fragile and animal – like a body, it has a high, and like a body, it can be ripped apart. When it is, the relics of the past are revealed that has been figuratively digested.

As the second stanza progresses, the poet focuses particularly on a single, unearthed relic, i.e., “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.”

In these lines, the spacing and enjambment suggest that the speaker is thinking through the possibilities contents of the bottle. It could serve as a cure for a bodily affliction, like “fever,” or for a more abstract psychic state, like “melancholy.”

Throughout history, the speaker suggests that medicine has been used not just to treat disease but also to make life more bearable.

The job of living on this earth, especially during the “winters of this climate,” requires tools. It is not just because of the literal coldness of winter but also because of its metaphoric coldness and the isolated people (especially women) have experienced throughout history.

Some writers, including Christopher Hamilton, have suggested that the amber bottle refers to male doctor’s fake treatments for women’s diseases like “melancholy,” thus contrasting their ineffectual work with Curie’s productive work discussed in the next stanza of the poem.

However, if the “hundred-year-old” amber bottle were crafted in 1874, 100 years before the poem’s composition, it would be only a bit older than Marie Curie’s early-20th-century discoveries.

The third stanza also starts with “Today,” which emphasizes a connection between the mysterious amber bottle and the speaker’s thoughts regarding Curie. The second line of this stanza uses unique spacing for conveying a double meaning.

It stated, “she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness” – suggests that first Curie suffered, as do all people and especially all women. Second, Curie suffered from radiation sickness, particularly.

The speaker of the poem explains the irony of the situation – Curie “purified” radium, whereas her body was in turn contaminated by it. Rich’s speaker draws out the effect of this element at length by discussing Curie’s cataracts, which had obscured her vision, as well as her cracked “finger-ends.”

This made it impossible for her to continue using the tools which enabled her scientific researches. The speaker concludes that Curie must have been aware that she was very ill and dying.

The poet cannot fathom that Curie would have been able to ignore her body’s symptoms deteriorating from the inside out. The fourth stanza interprets Curie’s denial. She used the earth’s power—radioactive elements—to contribute to the scientific community.

Though it would ultimately prove deadly, this power allowed Curie to maintain her efforts and work throughout her life and gain recognition as a woman in a male-dominated community. Rather than admit that her power and wounds came from the same place, she denied them entirely.

As the poem begins with a broad overview of the history, it asks the reader to interpret the lesson of Curie’s power. Some might interpret the poem to mean that power is fickle: that power inevitably wounds and corrupts.

Others might interpret it to speak to women’s power more broadly: true power does not come from absolute strength but vulnerability. One cannot have actual ability without wounds, and in a certain sense, our wounds are always the source of our power.

To channel the power and energy that lies in nature, one must be receptive—thus, in the end, vulnerable— to it. When it comes to women’s power, this would mean that a history of violence and oppression has led to women’s historical suffering and their potential to embrace their power in the modern era.

Summary Of ‘Power’

Power By Adrienne Rich Themes


It goes almost without mentioning that one of the main themes of this poem is the formal theme of power. The poet suggests that power is a complicated thing as it is both able to destroy and create.

For example, Marie Curie possessed emotional, physical, and intellectual power, yet the radiation from her studies both gave her power and simultaneously, it is the same thing that destroyed it.

Adrienne Rich suggests that Marie Curie battled the effects of radiation poisoning on her body up until her last breath. This power—a power of the mind and body—is what solidified Curie’s place in history, along with her researches on radiation.

And yet, the radioactive materials which Curie worked with were robust, too—powerful enough that they were capable of destroying the body of their discoverer. In this way, the speaker of the poem concludes that power cannot be separated from vulnerability.


This poem has been essentially dedicated to Marie Curie’s incredible and yet brutal self-sacrifice. The speaker of the poem describes in graphic detail how Curie’s body started breaking down after her research with radioactive material.

The poet explains that her eyes had developed cataracts, the skin on her fingertips had started to crack, and that her hands were no longer able to grasp or hold the tools which made scientific research possible.

Marie Curie gave up her body and mind for scientific knowledge, which is one of the many reasons she is respected and admired today. For Curie, no scientific breakthrough was way too dangerous. She dedicated her whole life to the study of radioactive material, and in return, she had to pay a hefty price.

Insomuch as this poem is a call to action, it also suggests that other women ought to follow her example. They should acknowledge their vulnerability and confront danger in the struggle for social and political change.


While “Power” explores Marie Curie’s incredible strength and capacity for self-sacrifice, the poet also suggests that Curie was in denial for the latter part of her life. The speaker describes how Marie Curie’s body began to break down—an apparent side effect of her in-depth work with radioactive substances.

And yet, according to the speaker of the poem, she never once blamed her physical fragility and illness on the radioactive poisoning. It seems she had denied that her ground-breaking work was no in any way connected to her physical deterioration. In this way, it is being made clear that Curie purposefully denied that her work was the root cause of her illness.

This is because Curie wanted to be remembered for the discoverer that she was, rather than her pain and sufferings of her life. Here, Rich seems to cast some judgment on Marie Curie’s denial. Rather than denying that her power and wounds may be intertwined, Rich suggests that we should all embrace our wounds and the way in which they can contribute to our powers.

Poetic Devices Of ‘Power’


In the 4th line: “cure for fever or a melancholy”

In the 7th line: “she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness”

In the 8th line: “her body bombarded for years by the element”

In the 10th line: “seems she denied”

In the 12th line: “the cracked and suppurating skin”

In the 13th line: “till she could no longer hold a test-tube”

In the 14th line: “she died a famous woman denying”

In the 15th line: “wounds came from the same source”


In the 1st line: “Living in the earth-deposits of our history”

In the 2nd line: “Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth”

In the 12th line: “the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends”

In the 17th line: “her wounds came from the same source as her power”


In the concluding line of this poem which states, “denying her wounds came from the same source as her power”, Rich refers to Curie’s dedication towards the field of research on radioactivity. The entire poem narration narrows down to this one line which dictates over the whole poem.

Central Idea Of ‘Power’

Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Power’ revolves around the later years in the life of the scientist Marie Curie. She had suffered to a great extent from the effects of her research experiments.

Curie’s wounds were so deep that she even had to undergo cataract operations at one point, but she denied any relation with her research work through it all. She believed sincerely in her work that was her source of power and strength, but what she didn’t make herself realize was that it was also the source of all her illness and sufferings.

Adrienne Rich puts forward Marie Curie as an example of legendary female leaders whose hidden struggle were not known to many. She urges the women of both times and future generations to learn from Curie’s sacrifice and strive for such power in their lives.

Tone Of ‘Power’

The poem begins with Rich mentioning the valuable and curable characteristics of the elements that now has made it possible for access due to radiation technology. She later talks about recently reading about Marie Curie’s sickness from radiation.

Rich also has mentioned that she learnt about Curie’s knowledge of the harmful effects radiation was having on her health but denied acknowledging any of those pieces of information and kept moving forward with her research until her last breath.

The poet says that she was a female who rejected her power source, that was her research, to be the cause of her wounds too and died in that insensibility to gift the world with her invention.

About The Poet Of ‘Power’

Adrienne Rich, the poet who authored the poem ‘Power’ (May 16, 1929 – March 27, 2012), was a poet and an essayist and radical American feminist. Born in Baltimore, Adrienne Rich was the eldest among the three sisters in her family.

Rich acquired her college diploma from the Radcliffe College, after which her love for poetry started growing, and soon she had been awarded the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award by the well-known poet W. H. Auden himself.

Rich later received a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied at Oxford almost for a year. Adrienne spent the remaining years writing in Europe and wandering about in the lands of Italy.