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Poem XI of "Twenty-One Love Poems, presents the female landscape in miniature. The She is both the "volcano" and the women who "scale the path." The "jewel-like flower" that grows on the side of the mountain has a physical corollary in the clitoris. Again, the female is not one thing any more than it is one place. It is everywhere, any place that women perceive to be "eternally and visibly female." Existing on the land and in the body, it is both Nature and Woman.

What is interesting about this particular lyric is not only how Rich parallels the natural and the womanly (the flower and the clitoris, the burning core and the glowing arteries), but also her belief that women have the power to name their environment as well as themselves. When Rich and her friend define the "jewel-like flower," the poet pointedly reminds the reader that the flower was "nameless till we re-name[d] her." "Renaming" is analogous to "re-vision" here; the flower--like an "old text" is seen "with fresh eyes" and given a fresh name. Like the sybils of ancient Greece, these women prophesy a mysterious vision that is not of this world. In the case of these modern sybils, the vision is an exclusively female one which they (rather than the male priests of the Greek sanctuaries) interpret by the act of naming.


From Jane Roberta Cooper, ed. Reading Adrienne Rich. (University of Michigan Press, 1984).