“Her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power” (page 135)
In the poem “Power” Adrienne Rich describes Madame Curie’s power and the concomitant suffering she further endures with that power. Importantly, Rich states that Madame Curie’s power came not just at the same time as her suffering, but “from the same source.” I think this alludes to a theme common to many of Rich’s poems, that suffering is often the price of power. Rich indicates that the issue of suffering being inextricable from power is a problem particularly faced by woman, as she references Madame Curie’s (female) body: “she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness / her body bombarded for years by the element / she had purified.” Her body was bombarded for years by that which gave her power. I think this warrants an important comparison to Audre Lorde’s treatment of the erotic in her essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” In Lorde’s essay, she describes the way in which the Erotic is a source of power that has long been looked down upon and suppressed in women. In order to take ownership of the Erotic and become powerful, they must subject themselves to the scrutiny of a misogynistic society, and they must suffer for it. Furthermore, as Rich points out, women must deny that they suffer at all: “She died a famous woman denying / her wounds / denying / her wounds came from the same sources as her power.” Rich’s repeats “denying her wounds” to suggest that in order to maintain one’s power, or maybe to avoid the possibility of being stripped of it, women must deny their suffering, deny their wounds. Had Madame Curie, or any woman with power, recognized and brought attention to her plight and her wounds, her weaknesses would be emphasized and would overshadow her accomplishments.