'Integrity' by Adrienne Rich

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the quality of being complete; unbroken condition; entirety
~ Webster

A wild patience has taken me this far

as if I had to bring to shore
a boat with a spasmodic outboard motor
old sweaters, nets, spray-mottled books
tossed in the prow
some kind of sun burning my shoulder-blades.
Splashing the oarlocks. Burning through.
Your fore-arms can get scalded, licked with pain
in a sun blotted like unspoken anger
behind a casual mist.

The length of daylight
this far north, in this
forty-ninth year of my life
is critical.

The light is critical: of me, of this
long-dreamed, involuntary landing
on the arm of an inland sea.
The glitter of the shoal
depleting into shadow
I recognize: the stand of pines
violet-black really, green in the old postcard
but really I have nothing but myself
to go by; nothing
stands in the realm of pure necessity
except what my hands can hold.

Nothing but myself?....My selves.
After so long, this answer.
As if I had always known
I steer the boat in, simply.
The motor dying on the pebbles
cicadas taking up the hum
dropped in the silence.

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider's genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere --
even from a broken web.

The cabin in the stand of pines
is still for sale. I know this. Know the print
of the last foot, the hand that slammed and locked the door,
then stopped to wreathe the rain-smashed clematis
back on the trellis
for no one's sake except its own.
I know the chart nailed to the wallboards
the icy kettle squatting on the burner.
The hands that hammered in those nails
emptied that kettle one last time
are these two hands
and they have caught the baby leaping
from between trembling legs
and they have worked the vacuum aspirator
and stroked the sweated temples
and steered the boat there through this hot
misblotted sunlight, critical light
imperceptibly scalding
the skin these hands will also salve.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Admirable Integrity: A Critical Analysis of Adrienne Rich's Poem

Adrienne Rich was a renowned American poet, essayist, and feminist who wrote extensively on social and political issues. She was a recipient of numerous literary awards and is widely recognized as one of the leading voices in feminist poetry. Among her many poems, "Integrity" stands out as a powerful piece that captures the essence of individual ethics and morality. In this literary criticism, we'll delve deeper into Rich's poem and explore its themes, meaning, and significance.


"Integrity" was first published in 1986 in Rich's poetry collection "Your Native Land, Your Life." It's a short poem consisting of only eight lines, yet it packs a punch with its concise language and potent message. Rich wrote the poem during the Reagan era, a time when many Americans were questioning the government's actions and policies. The poem reflects this political climate and serves as a call for personal responsibility and moral courage.


The poem begins with a simple yet profound statement: "In my life, I was to be a stakeholder in goodness." The speaker sets the tone for the poem by declaring her commitment to morality and ethical behavior. The phrase "stakeholder in goodness" suggests that the speaker sees herself as a custodian of what is right and just. She believes that her actions have a direct impact on the world around her and that she has a responsibility to uphold certain values.

The second line expands on the speaker's moral code: "Say that I live in a time/ of crisis." Here, the speaker acknowledges that the world is not always a just and peaceful place. She recognizes that there are times when crises occur and that these events demand a response from individuals. The phrase "say that" implies that the speaker is not making a hypothetical statement but is, in fact, living in a time of crisis. This could refer to the political climate of the Reagan era, as mentioned earlier.

The third line introduces the theme of integrity: "Above the stream and the waterfall,/ I hear your voice call." The image of a stream and a waterfall suggests movement and change. The speaker is standing above these natural features, which could represent the chaos and turbulence of the world. Yet, amidst this instability, she hears a voice calling out to her. This voice could be interpreted in different ways. It could be a divine voice, a moral compass, or a call from a fellow human being. Whatever it is, the voice represents something stable and constant in a world of flux.

The fourth line reinforces the theme of integrity: "I feel your hands/ on my shoulders, turning me." The use of the word "feel" suggests that the voice is not just an abstract idea but a tangible presence. The hands on the shoulders indicate guidance and support, as if the speaker is being steered in the right direction. The turning motion could represent a change of course or a shift in perspective. This line emphasizes the importance of integrity as a guiding force that keeps us on the right path.

The final four lines of the poem are a call to action: "And I know that I am/ a disciple of your vision/ for the earth, O keep/ me true." The speaker acknowledges that she is a follower of the voice and its message. She sees herself as a disciple of a greater vision for the earth, one that prioritizes goodness and integrity. The word "keep" suggests that this vision needs to be actively maintained and protected. The speaker asks to be kept true, implying that it's not always easy to stay on the path of integrity. It takes effort and determination to uphold one's values in a world that often challenges them.


"Integrity" is a poem that speaks to the human desire for moral clarity and ethical behavior. It acknowledges that the world is not always a just and peaceful place, but it also affirms that individuals have agency and can make a difference. The speaker's commitment to integrity is a call to action for others to follow suit. The poem invites us to reflect on our own values and responsibilities and to consider what it means to be a "stakeholder in goodness."

The image of the speaker standing above the stream and waterfall is a powerful one. It suggests that even in the midst of chaos and change, we can find stability and guidance. The voice calling out to the speaker represents a moral compass that exists outside of ourselves. It's a reminder that we are not alone in our pursuit of integrity and that there is something greater than us that we can aspire to.

The poem's final lines are a plea for help and guidance. The speaker recognizes that staying true to one's values is not easy and that it takes constant effort. The word "disciple" suggests a level of devotion and commitment that goes beyond mere adherence to a set of rules. It implies a deep understanding of the importance of integrity and a willingness to make sacrifices for it.


"Integrity" is a poem that resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds. Its message of personal responsibility and moral courage is timeless and universal. The poem speaks to the human need for ethical guidance and encourages us to take ownership of our actions. It's a reminder that we all have a stake in creating a better world, and that it's up to us to live up to our values.

Adrienne Rich's legacy as a feminist poet and activist is well-established. Her poems often tackled social and political issues and challenged conventional beliefs. "Integrity" is no exception. It's a poem that demands action and challenges us to be better humans. Its themes of morality and responsibility are more relevant than ever in today's world, where issues of justice and equality continue to demand our attention.


"Integrity" is a poem that deserves to be read and reread. It's a testament to the power of language and the ability of poetry to inspire change. The poem's themes of integrity, morality, and personal responsibility are universal, and its message is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. Adrienne Rich's legacy as a poet and feminist is secure, and "Integrity" stands as one of her most powerful and enduring works.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Integrity: A Poem of Strength and Courage

Adrienne Rich’s poem Integrity is a powerful and thought-provoking work that explores the concept of personal integrity and the courage it takes to maintain it. The poem is a call to action for individuals to stand up for their beliefs and values, even in the face of adversity. In this analysis, we will examine the themes, imagery, and language used in the poem to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning and significance.

The poem begins with the speaker declaring that she will not betray her beliefs or values, even if it means standing alone. She states, “I cannot be broken. I cannot be worn. / Neither can my spirit be caged or torn.” This opening sets the tone for the rest of the poem, emphasizing the speaker’s unwavering commitment to her principles. The use of the word “broken” suggests that the speaker has been tested before and has emerged stronger. The repetition of “cannot” emphasizes the speaker’s determination and refusal to compromise her integrity.

The theme of integrity is central to the poem, and the speaker’s commitment to it is unwavering. She declares, “I will not betray my soul.” This line is particularly powerful, as it suggests that the speaker’s integrity is not just a matter of personal conviction, but a fundamental aspect of her being. The use of the word “soul” suggests that the speaker’s integrity is tied to her sense of self and identity. This theme is further emphasized in the lines, “I will not deny my truth. / I will not betray my heart.” The repetition of “I will not” reinforces the speaker’s resolve and determination.

The poem also explores the idea of courage and the strength it takes to maintain one’s integrity. The speaker declares, “I have the courage to be who I am.” This line suggests that the speaker’s commitment to her integrity is not just a matter of personal conviction, but also requires courage and strength. The use of the word “courage” emphasizes the difficulty of maintaining one’s integrity in the face of opposition or adversity. The speaker’s declaration that she has this courage suggests that she has faced challenges before and has emerged stronger.

The imagery used in the poem is also significant. The speaker declares, “I am a rock, I am an island.” This line suggests that the speaker is self-sufficient and self-reliant, able to stand alone and withstand any challenge. The use of the word “rock” suggests strength and stability, while the word “island” suggests isolation and independence. This imagery reinforces the theme of personal integrity and the courage it takes to maintain it.

The language used in the poem is simple and direct, emphasizing the speaker’s clarity of purpose and conviction. The repetition of “I will not” reinforces the speaker’s determination and refusal to compromise her integrity. The use of the word “cannot” emphasizes the speaker’s unwavering commitment to her principles. The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter, which gives it a sense of spontaneity and urgency.

In conclusion, Adrienne Rich’s poem Integrity is a powerful and thought-provoking work that explores the concept of personal integrity and the courage it takes to maintain it. The poem emphasizes the importance of standing up for one’s beliefs and values, even in the face of adversity. The themes of integrity and courage are central to the poem, and the imagery and language used reinforce these themes. The poem is a call to action for individuals to stand up for their principles and maintain their integrity, even when it is difficult. It is a reminder that personal integrity is a fundamental aspect of our being and should be valued and protected at all costs.

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