Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, MIDNIGHT SALVAGE: 1, by ADRIENNE CECILE RICH

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

MIDNIGHT SALVAGE: 1, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Midnight Salvage: 1" by Adrienne Cecile Rich grapples with a sense of cosmic yearning and disillusionment, set against a backdrop of conflict and existential uncertainty. Through the motifs of celestial bodies, light and darkness, and the struggle between "us" and "them," Rich explores a search for something reliable, perhaps an old truth or even just a sense of comfort in the cosmos, and the difficulty in finding it in the modern world.

The poem opens with the speaker searching "skyward through a glazed triangle," seeking the light of a "so-called heavenly body." This effort immediately establishes the theme of a quest, a longing for something pure or divine. The phrase "so-called heavenly body" insinuates skepticism, questioning whether anything can truly be heavenly or above earthly flaws. When the speaker finds "nothing nothing but a late wind / pushing around some Monterey pines," it's as if the universe itself has responded with a nihilistic shrug, emphasizing the emptiness of the quest. Furthermore, the Monterey pines are described as "themselves in trouble and rust-limbed," suggesting that the planet is not just indifferent but also in a state of decay or suffering.

Rich then moves us to the specific time "Nine o'clock : : July," and notes that the light remains "undrained." The "blotted blue" serves as a visual metaphor for the murkiness of the modern situation, one that allows thought's "blood to ebb between life- and death-time." This phrase captures the existential dread of the era, hinting at the liminal space between life and death, the constant tug-of-war that can occur mentally and emotionally in a world of uncertainty.

This notion of division is further accentuated by "bad news pulsing back and forth of 'us' and 'them.'" Rich succinctly captures the root of many worldly problems-tribalism, a divisive outlook that pits one group against another. The fact that this news is "pulsing" suggests a sort of lifeblood in the societal framework, as if divisiveness is hardwired into the human condition.

Yet amid this bleak environment, the speaker admits, "And all I wanted was to find an old / friend an old figure an old trigonometry / still true to our story in orbits flaming or cold." The term "old trigonometry" acts as a metaphor for a basic, unchanging truth, while "orbits flaming or cold" could signify various paths of life-some passionate and others distant. The speaker is seeking a constant in an ever-changing, increasingly complex world.

Rich's "Midnight Salvage: 1" then serves as an elegy for a kind of lost innocence or simplicity. It's an exploration of a world so caught up in its own complexities that even a simple search for a star or a planet-objects that have guided and comforted humanity for millennia-ends up fruitless and fraught. Rich encapsulates the alienation of modern existence, the sense that not only are we disconnected from each other but perhaps also from the cosmos, from any greater meaning. And yet, the yearning for a return to something pure and comprehensible remains, however elusive it may be.

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