'Snapshots Of A Daughter-In-Law' by Adrienne Rich

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You, once a belle in Shreveport,
with henna-colored hair, skin like a peachbud,
still have your dresses copied from that time,
and play a Chopin prelude
called by Cortot: "Delicious recollections
float like perfume through the memory."

Your mind now, moldering like wedding-cake,
heavy with useless experience, rich
with suspicion, rumor, fantasy,
crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge
of mere fact. In the prime of your life.

Nervy, glowering, your daughter
wipes the teaspoons, grows another way.


Banging the coffee-pot into the sink
she hears the angels chiding, and looks out
past the raked gardens to the sloppy sky.
Only a week since They said: Have no patience.

The next time it was: Be insatiable.
Then: Save yourself; others you cannot save.
Sometimes she's let the tapstream scald her arm,
a match burn to her thumbnail,

or held her hand above the kettle's snout
right inthe woolly steam. They are probably angels,
since nothing hurts her anymore, except
each morning's grit blowing into her eyes.


A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
The beak that grips her, she becomes. And Nature,
that sprung-lidded, still commodious
steamer-trunk of tempora and mores
gets stuffed with it all: the mildewed orange-flowers,
the female pills, the terrible breasts
of Boadicea beneath flat foxes' heads and orchids.
Two handsome women, gripped in argument,
each proud, acute, subtle, I hear scream
across the cut glass and majolica
like Furies cornered from their prey:
The argument ad feminam, all the old knives
that have rusted in my back, I drive in yours,
ma semblable, ma soeur!


Knowing themselves too well in one another:
their gifts no pure fruition, but a thorn,
the prick filed sharp against a hint of scorn...
Reading while waiting
for the iron to heat,
writing, My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
in that Amherst pantry while the jellies boil and scum,
or, more often,
iron-eyed and beaked and purposed as a bird,
dusting everything on the whatnot every day of life.


Dulce ridens, dulce loquens,
she shaves her legs until they gleam
like petrified mammoth-tusk.


When to her lute Corinna sings
neither words nor music are her own;
only the long hair dipping
over her cheek, only the song
of silk against her knees
and these
adjusted in reflections of an eye.

Poised, trembling and unsatisfied, before
an unlocked door, that cage of cages,
tell us, you bird, you tragical machine--
is this fertillisante douleur? Pinned down
by love, for you the only natural action,
are you edged more keen
to prise the secrets of the vault? has Nature shown
her household books to you, daughter-in-law,
that her sons never saw?


"To have in this uncertain world some stay
which cannot be undermined, is
of the utmost consequence."

Thus wrote
a woman, partly brave and partly good,
who fought with what she partly understood.
Few men about her would or could do more,
hence she was labeled harpy, shrew and whore.


"You all die at fifteen," said Diderot,
and turn part legend, part convention.
Still, eyes inaccurately dream
behind closed windows blankening with steam.
Deliciously, all that we might have been,
all that we were--fire, tears,
wit, taste, martyred ambition--
stirs like the memory of refused adultery
the drained and flagging bosom of our middle years.


Not that it is done well, but
that it is done at all?
Yes, think
of the odds! or shrug them off forever.
This luxury of the precocious child,
Time's precious chronic invalid,--
would we, darlings, resign it if we could?
Our blight has been our sinecure:
mere talent was enough for us--
glitter in fragments and rough drafts.

Sigh no more, ladies.
Time is male
and in his cups drinks to the fair.
Bemused by gallantry, we hear
our mediocrities over-praised,
indolence read as abnegation,
slattern thought styled intuition,
every lapse forgiven, our crime
only to cast too bold a shadow
or smash the mold straight off.
For that, solitary confinement,
tear gas, attrition shelling.
Few applicants for that honor.


she's long about her coming, who must be
more merciless to herself than history.
Her mind full to the wind, I see her plunge
breasted and glancing through the currents,
taking the light upon her
at least as beautiful as any boy
or helicopter,
poised, still coming,
her fine blades making the air wince

but her cargo
no promise then:

Editor 1 Interpretation

Snapshots Of A Daughter-In-Law: A Masterpiece by Adrienne Rich


Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law is a timeless masterpiece by Adrienne Rich, a prolific and influential American poet. The poem is a collection of snapshots of the mundane and intimate moments of the lives of women, specifically the speaker's mother-in-law and the speaker herself. The poem is a reflection of the complexity of the female experience, as it explores themes of femininity, identity, and the roles women are expected to play in society.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will dive deep into the poem and explore its nuances, symbolism, and literary devices. We will analyze the poem's form, structure, and language, and uncover its underlying themes and messages.

Form and Structure

Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law is a free-verse poem, meaning it does not follow a strict rhyme scheme or meter. The poem is divided into six sections, each with a different focus and tone.

The first section, "I," sets the scene and establishes the speaker's perspective. The second section, "II," introduces the mother-in-law and her life. Section III, "III," shifts the focus to the speaker's own life and experiences. Section IV, "IV," explores the tension between the speaker and the mother-in-law. Section V, "V," returns to the mother-in-law and her struggles, while the final section, "VI," brings the poem full circle and concludes with the speaker's own reflections.

The poem's structure is nonlinear, with each snapshot providing a glimpse into a moment in time rather than a chronological narrative. This fragmented structure allows the poem to capture the fleeting and fragmented nature of memory, as well as the complexity of the female experience.

Language and Imagery

Rich's language is evocative and powerful, and her use of imagery is particularly striking. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions of everyday objects and actions, such as the "dustpan of our lives," "a spider's torn web," and "the cat's eye / narrowing greedily on a mess of entrails."

These images serve to elevate the mundane and highlight the beauty and significance of everyday moments. They also create a sense of intimacy and immediacy, allowing the reader to feel as though they are right there with the speaker, witnessing these moments firsthand.

Rich also makes use of metaphor and symbolism throughout the poem. For example, in Section III, the speaker describes her own body as a "puzzled island," highlighting the disconnect she feels from her own sense of self. In Section V, the mother-in-law's "rose-printed flannel nightgown" becomes a symbol of her vulnerability and fragility.

Themes and Messages

Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law is a rich and complex poem that explores a wide range of themes and messages. Some of the most prominent themes include:

One of the most powerful messages of the poem is the importance of embracing complexity and rejecting simplistic, binary thinking. The poem emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the female experience, and the ways in which women are often forced to navigate conflicting roles and expectations.

Rich also highlights the importance of empathy and understanding, particularly between different generations of women. The tension between the speaker and the mother-in-law is ultimately resolved through an understanding of the mother-in-law's struggles and experiences.

Finally, the poem emphasizes the importance of self-discovery and self-expression. The speaker's journey towards self-discovery is a central theme of the poem, as she struggles to reconcile her own desires and needs with the expectations placed upon her by society.


Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law is a masterpiece of modern poetry, filled with powerful imagery, evocative language, and complex themes. Rich's exploration of femininity, identity, and intergenerational relationships is as relevant today as it was when the poem was first published in 1963.

Through its nonlinear structure and vivid snapshots of everyday moments, the poem captures the complexity of the female experience and the struggle for self-discovery. It is a powerful reminder that the female experience is multifaceted and nuanced, and that simplistic, binary thinking is not only inaccurate, but harmful.

In short, Snapshots of a Daughter-In-Law is a must-read for anyone interested in modern poetry and the exploration of the female experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Snapshots Of A Daughter-In-Law: A Poem That Resonates With Women Everywhere

Adrienne Rich's poem, Snapshots Of A Daughter-In-Law, is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of literature that speaks to women everywhere. The poem, written in 1963, is a reflection on the societal expectations placed on women during that time and the struggle for women to find their own identity and voice.

The poem is divided into five sections, each of which explores a different aspect of a woman's life. The first section, titled "I", sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It is a reflection on the narrator's own life and the expectations placed on her as a woman. The narrator speaks of the "fear of being judged" and the pressure to conform to societal norms. She also speaks of the struggle to find her own identity and voice in a world that often silences women.

The second section, titled "II", explores the relationship between a mother and daughter. The narrator speaks of the "tension" between the two and the struggle for the daughter to break free from her mother's expectations. The daughter is described as "a woman now, with a daughter of her own" and the narrator reflects on the cycle of expectations that is passed down from generation to generation.

The third section, titled "III", is a reflection on marriage and the expectations placed on women in that institution. The narrator speaks of the "dullness" and "sameness" of marriage and the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles. She also speaks of the struggle to find passion and fulfillment in a relationship that is often defined by societal expectations.

The fourth section, titled "IV", is a reflection on motherhood and the expectations placed on women in that role. The narrator speaks of the "sacrifice" and "loss" that comes with motherhood and the pressure to be the perfect mother. She also speaks of the struggle to balance motherhood with other aspects of her life and the fear of losing her own identity in the process.

The final section, titled "V", is a reflection on the narrator's own mortality. She speaks of the "fear of death" and the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. She also speaks of the importance of finding one's own voice and identity before it is too late.

Throughout the poem, Rich uses vivid imagery and powerful language to convey the struggles and expectations placed on women during that time. She speaks of the "cage" that women are often trapped in and the struggle to break free. She also speaks of the importance of finding one's own voice and identity in a world that often silences women.

One of the most powerful aspects of the poem is its relevance to women today. While the poem was written in 1963, many of the struggles and expectations placed on women are still present today. Women still face pressure to conform to societal norms and expectations, and many struggle to find their own voice and identity.

The poem also speaks to the importance of breaking free from these expectations and finding one's own path in life. It is a call to action for women to stand up and speak out against the societal pressures that hold them back.

In conclusion, Snapshots Of A Daughter-In-Law is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that speaks to women everywhere. It is a reflection on the struggles and expectations placed on women during that time and the importance of finding one's own voice and identity. The poem is a call to action for women to break free from societal expectations and find their own path in life. It is a timeless piece of literature that resonates with women today just as much as it did in 1963.

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