Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Adrienne Rich

"What Kind of Times Are These" and "In Those Years"

A Poet a Day: Adrienne Rich

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.” Enjoy.
— Bill Moyers

Today we hear from Adrienne Rich as she reads two of her poems: “What Kind of Times Are These” and “In Those Years.”

“What Kind of Times Are These”

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

Source: Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc. 1995)

“In Those Years”

In those years, people will say, we lost track of the meaning of we, of you. We found ourselves reduced to I. And the whole thing became silly, ironic, terrible. We were trying to live a personal life, and yes, that was the only life we could bear witness to. But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged into our personal weather. They were headed somewhere else, but their beaks and pinions drove along the shore, through the rags of fog, where we stood saying, I.