Arts & Culture

‘Prospective Immigrants Please Note’

The door itself makes no promises. It is only a door.

'Prospective Immigrants Please Note'


Prospective Immigrants Please Note

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.



Thoughts from Adrienne Rich

I believe that poetry is asking us to consider the quality of life. And it is reflecting on what makes it possible for us to continue as human. Under the barrage of brute violence, numbing indifference, trivialization, shallowness, that we endure.

Even when I was very young, I was reading poetry, looking for what it could tell me about how to live. For me, poetry has never, ever been just an escape from the world, an escape from history.

I think in this poem, what I am talking about is the choice that we can make, to move deeper into things, or simply to live worthily, maintain your attitudes, hold your position, even die bravely, but not to see what might have been seen. Not to grasp what might have been grasped. And that is a choice, for us all, whether in poetry or in life.

Our country has many truths, but certainly one of them has to be that this was never a democracy. That this was a hope of democracy, an enormous, an enormous hope for true democracy, and that it failed many people from the outset and it’s failing more people now.

I think that more and more people feel uncared for, feel that their lives are not only unvalued, but meaningless. Feel that though they may care for their lives, no one else will. Feel that the only way that they can protect their survival and their interests is by the gun. I’m afraid that many people feel an enormous desperation which plays into the propaganda of hate.

I think that poetry speaks beyond that, to something different. And that’s why it can bring those parts of us together, that are both in dread, and which have the surviving sense of a possible happiness, and a possible collectivity, a possible community, a loss of isolation.

These reflections are excerpted from an interview Bill Moyers did with Adrienne Rich in 1995 as part of The Language of Life series. Rich died in 2012 at the age of 82. You can read the transcript of her entire interview with Bill in our archive and read more of her poems at Poetry Foundation website.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was a major figure in American letters for a generation. As poet, feminist thinker and political activist, she addressed the dislocations of our world, especially the divorce of the private and the public. She was both controversial and celebrated for her activism — and the recipient of many awards for poems and essays that bring a piercing candor to human relationships. She was a fellow of the Academy of American Poets and a MacArthur Fellow. In 1992 she received the Frost Silver Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement awarded by the Poetry Society of America. Rich died in 2012 at the age of 82.