A Poem of Transitions: Adrienne Rich’s “Dialogue”

Adrienne Rich’s “Dialogue” is a poem of transitions, of “almosts” that only lead to more questions, and of trying to uncover “if sex is an illusion” (ll. 10). It is a piece open to numerous interpretations, but the one I will be focusing on explores how a dialogue between two women ultimately transitions to an internal monologue of the narrator alone and her personal thoughts on sex as an illusion (sex, in this argument, as in the differentiation between male and female, not the act of intercourse). Like I mentioned briefly before, there is a common pattern of “almosts.” For instance, the first stanza describes the aftermath of two women talking “for hours” (ll. 3) followed by images that suggest they were almost able to come to a conclusion with their thoughts but were never quite able to get there fully. First, we are told, “our talk has beaten/ like rain against the screens” (ll. 3-4), which suggests an onslaught of ideas and theories but ones that are never able to reach them as they are metaphorically inside while the rain beats against the screen on the outside. Then, there is “a sense of August” (ll. 5), which is the summer month before the relief of fall in September – this relief being the cool autumn air that dispels the sticky summer heat that can make it impossible to move. Again, this adds to the idea that they have been close to an answer, but they stay stuck, nonetheless. And finally, the image of “heat-lighting” (ll. 5), or a split-second revelation that leaves them excited but is gone just as quickly.

These three images then lead to the peak “almost” of the whole poem: “then she says (and this is what I live through/ over and over)—she says: I do not know/ if sex is an illusion” (ll. 8-10). The switch from dialogue to monologue occurs with, and is emphasized by, the break between the two stanzas that follows. The statement in parenthesis, specifically the phrase “I live through,” is important because it shows that the narrator hasn’t just thought about what her friend was saying – she’s lived (or is living though) it. The repetition of “I” in the second stanza could also signify the transition from dialogue to internal monologue as could the continued italics, a traditional literary technique to signify thoughts rather than words. Transitioning from one’s birth sex to another means following a path that is typically unclear and full of questions, and, with this thought in mind, whether the break between stanzas indicates the transition from dialogue to monologue is similarly unclear and, of course, only presents further questions. However, it is undeniable that it is there and is something that needs to be considered when analyzing the poem, just like sex is when analyzing one’s own identity once they realize it could be an illusion.

2 thoughts on “A Poem of Transitions: Adrienne Rich’s “Dialogue””

  1. I love your analysis here. The identifying these seemingly disparate images under the category of ‘almosts’ is very intriguing. The repetition of these moments adds tension in the dialogue, which illustrates the tensions one feels when navigating questions of identity. This poem feels almost like the aftermath of a wonderfully in-depth conversation with a friend where afterwards you are left reeling with a million thoughts in your brain that you cannot quite straighten out (sorry for the pun lol). That’s what the transition from dialogue to monologue denotes for me. I think your illuminating of the almost images makes that much more clear and meaningful.

  2. I never noticed the thread of “almosts” throughout this poem. Now that you mention it, it makes so much sense especially with how it is questioning sex/sexuality. The phrase “I don’t know” is even an “almost” answer to any question. To answer the “so what?” question, this repetition of almost moments could represent questions of identity and sex. That the exploration of identity and sex are “almost” moments – you feel that you know who you are, but then you find something new about yourself. The best answer may just be the almost answer: “I don’t know.”

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