The Law of Volcanoes

“Every peak is a crater. This is the law of volcanoes, making them eternally and visibly female. No height without depth, without a burning core” (Rich, 148).

When reading this particular excerpt of section XI of Twenty-One Love Poems I immediately notice the gender attachment that Adrienne Rich gives to the volcano.  The law of volcanoes is when power is forcefully held in, and then bursts. A volcano is extremely powerful and by identifying the “law of volcanoes” as a woman, it creates the parallelism of the harnessing and withholding of power, and the eruption of power as similar to the power of woman.  It also relates to the suffering of woman, which is a common theme throughout Twenty-One Love Poems. Rich commonly discusses woman finding their power through many different aspects, such as love or language, and that woman are forced by society to withhold their power.  However, once one is able to harness the power which they hold in their “burning core”, they allow it to erupt and therefore become more powerful.  Another place we see this idea is in Audre Lorde’s piece, The Uses of the Erotic. In Lorde’s writing she discusses the idea of redefining the word erotic to mean power or using erotic as a resource for power.  Once one is able to understand where that comes from, they can use it to their ability and become more powerful and self aware.   For Rich it is the comparison between the volcano and a woman that exemplifies this, and for Lorde it is when she writes “the erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling,” (Lorde 87).  In both pieces, the usage of power is thought of as an entirely female force which is kept inside, until it is recognized, and once one can fully understand it, then it is an extremely powerful force.

4 thoughts on “The Law of Volcanoes”

  1. I enjoyed reading your in depth analysis of Rich’s metaphor of the volcano. I believe that Rich’s use of the volcano in connection to women to be quite powerful and strong. You related your analysis to previous class discussions and tied in background knowledge on Rich herself. Women have this “burning core” inside them that’s waiting to erupt. This power can no longer be held in. After reading this I begin to wonder if Rich throughout other works of poetry hints to when she believes that this power “will erupt.” Or what will cause this eruption? Has it already happened in today’s society? After reading this post I felt that there were many ways that this idea or Rich’s ideas in general could possibly tie with current events. Perhaps we could look at Rich’s ideas and apply them to current events in society.

  2. I found that this was a very interesting connection to Audre Lorde’s work as well as some of Adrienne Rich’s other poems. Rich often uses certain objects and animals to help define what it is to be a woman and trying to understand the intricacies of womanhood as well. Along with Audre Lorde, Rich uses the erotic in her poems to describe the power that women have, even if it is buried deep inside due to oppression and other societal factors. Rich also uses this type of reasoning and analogy in some of her other poems, like Hunger, to describe the use of the erotic in everyday life.

  3. Hi Caroline,

    It was a pleasure reading your analysis of Rich’s idea of the volcano as a female concept. I saw connections between your analysis and something that we discussed in class about Rich’s third poem in the Cartographies of Silence about the power that one has in making the choice to be silent. For women who are oppressed by the traditional Western patriarchal system, they must find other ways to exhibit their power – making a choice to be silent is very much different from being forced to be silent. You mention that “once one is able to understand where that comes from, they can use it to their ability and become more powerful and self aware” – this notion certainly pertains to the choice in silence thought. Choosing to be silent and continuing to do so has a power associated with it that other forms of protest do not.

  4. Hi Caroline,

    I really like the connection you made between the law of volcanoes and the power of women. You touched upon this, but I think that a connection can also be made between the suffering and oppression of women and how that almost makes them stronger. It’s the intense pressure on the volcano that forces it to erupt. I think you can then make the connection between this poem and Power, both with the idea of power and with the idea of suffering and power coming from the same source. I also thought your connection to Audre Lorde’s writing on the erotic was really interesting, and I would not have thought of that on my own.

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