in English Literature, Poetry

Here’s an analysis of Adrienne Rich’s ‘Amends’, tailored towards IGCSE and GCSE Exams — CIE, Edexcel, WJEC, OCR, AQA, and Eduqas. I’ve written some exam-style questions at the bottom too for you to practise!


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“Nights like this: on the cold apple-bough
a white star, then another
exploding out of the bark:
on the ground, moonlight picking at small stones…”

Adrienne Rich

For a link to the full poem, click here.

VOCABULARY

Unavailing – not working / useless effort.

Hanagared – inside a hangar (shelter where planes are kept).

Fuselage – the main body of an aircraft, where fuel is stored.

To make amends – undo the wrongdoing / falling out of a situation.

Tremulous – trembling, shaking, quivering.

Crop-dusting plane – A type of airplane that is small, yellow, and used to spread fertiliser over fields by farmers.

Trailers – transportable (usually metal) cabins where people can sleep and cook, used in camping but sometimes people also live in them permanently.

STORY/SUMMARY

The story is set at night, in a natural setting — out of the apple, tree light explodes, each piece of light is a ‘white star’. In the second stanza, the moonlight is picking at the stones, rising with the white surf on the sea, licking the broken ledges, flowing up cliffs, and flicking across tracks. The third stanza continues this, but also shifts focus to man-made elements, such as the crop-dusting plane that is resting in the hangar, and the sand-and-gravel quarry. In the final stanza, the light goes into the trailers, which are shaking with sleep. It rests upon the eyes of people sleeping there, the poet observes that this is ‘to make amends’. To fix something that has broken or gone wrong.

FORM/STRUCTURE

The first two stanzas describe natural order — apple trees, sea, cliffs, whereas the last two are about the impact of humans — trailers, airplanes, quarries. There’s a shift — a volta — at the beginning of the third stanza, which demonstrates a shift in the focus of the poem. The poet clearly separated nature from the work of humans.

The poem is one long sentence. It focuses on the movement of moonlight as it illuminates different natural and manmade objects.

Anaphora (repeating the start of a line or sentence): ‘as it’ — creates a steady rhythm that shows the progress of moonlight over the landscape.

Enjambment — each stanza flows on to the next, imitating the flow of the light itself.

The first stanza contains a caesura: The colon creates an abrupt pause in the middle of the line. This disrupts the flow of language, perhaps suggesting shock or suddenness.

Lack of punctuation: On the whole, there is very little punctuation in the poem. which gives the impression that it’s describing one continuous scene, creates a film quality.

Due to the fact that this poem is one sentence, the reader will not come to the end of the phrase until the final line. Many of these lines seem to hang in space without a conclusion. This was done on purpose so that it will seem as though there is no end or beginning. One line runs into another.

In the last line of the poem all of the “as it” statements come to a conclusion. The light has been moving across the face of the earth in an attempt to heal, or “as if to make amends.” The purity of the moon is hoping, through its sheer beauty and presence, to fix what humanity has done to the planet.

LANGUAGE

‘It’ – refers to the moonlight, third-person singular pronoun suggesting that the moon is neither masculine nor feminine.

“picks” “licks” “flicks” – rhyming words connect together and create a sense of harmony and peacefulness in the poem, also imitate the rhythm of the moonlight as it transfers from one object to another.

‘Sand-and-gravel Quarry’ — this visual image creates a negative atmosphere, a quarry is a place where dirt is dug up, where humans destroy the land in order to use its resources, suggesting that humans have a selfish and brutal relationship with nature

> The light is now pouring “unavailing” into a “gash.” It is clear from this lexical choice that the “quarry” to which it refers is not natural. It is a blemish, or “gash,” upon the landscape. The quarry is made of, and filled with, “sand-and-gravel”; it has been tuned to that purpose.

These people are shaking or shivering in their sleep, they are filled with their own lives and histories. The moonlight pauses on the “eyelids of the sleepers.” These “sleepers” are all of humankind. All people have played a part in changing the face of the earth and are receiving an equal treatment from the light of the moon. There, the light “dwells.

The damage refers to the structures built, the harm done to the environment, or even the sheer waste that has accumulated. It also refers metaphorically to the mental and spiritual state of humanity itself.

THEMES

  • Nature vs manmade
  • Conflict vs resolution
  • Environmentalism
  • Peace
  • Shifts in perspective
  • Knowledge
  • Beauty
  • Power
  • Industrialism

CONTEXT

Born Adrienne Cecile Rich (May 16, 1929 — March 27, 2012), modern American poet and essayist, considered a feminist.

Many of her poems are considered lyrical and sensual — they focus on thoughts and emotions.

In the 1970s Rich experienced the feminist movement, civil rights movements, the Vietnam War and a lot of distress.

She was called ‘ one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century’.

She had a white, middle class upbringing.

Her early poems were more domestic and about being a married woman and a mother. In the 1960s they transformed to be more radical and confrontational.

She often writes poetry about social or political problems.

She left her husband in 1970.

ESSAY QUESTIONS

How does Rich make the description of moonlight so powerful?

In what ways does Rich explore the idea of ‘making amends’?

Explore the ways in which Rich powerfully uses natural imagery in the poem.

How does Rich engage with the ideas of nature and the environment in ‘Amends’?


Thanks for reading! If you found this resource useful, check out our complete CIE A-Level Poetry Anthology course.

For more poem analyses, check out this link.

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