“I came to explore the wreck”


Adrienne Rich’s poem Diving Into the Wreck is among my absolute favorite poems – so much so that I have three lines from it tattooed on my ribcage. I think what I like best about it is that it works on so many different levels, and continues to take on new meaning each time I read it.

If you’re not familiar, you can read it here.

On a very literal level, this poem makes sense – it’s about exploring a shipwreck, to be able to see the thing itself instead of just having to rely on stories and myths.

It’s a feminist work, and rather political, as it portrays a narrator – genderless in the poem, but often conflated with the feminine, as the author was a woman – diving into mythology, exploring something in which our names do not appear. (“Our” referring to women.)

It’s unclear what the wreck actually is, only that it has been mythologized. It could represent women, or feelings, or oppressed/voiceless populations, or any number of hidden, invisible, or forgotten things. Our names, those forgotten people, don’t just have to be women.

We know that the wreck symbolizes some sort of tragedy or disaster, and that the thing itself, as we see it through the poem, is a skeleton of what it was. It’s only a shadow of its former self, a damaged thing hidden under the ocean.

And yet, there are still treasures. It is still a threadbare beauty. 

(As my blog header says…Beauty likes neglected places.)

I get hung up on different sections of this poem every time I read it. My tattoo contains the lines:

I came to explore the wreck.

The words are purposes.

The words are maps.

At that time, the idea of words as maps and purposes, of exploring something using language, was appealing to me. I was breaking free of some things mentally, and writing was the way I did that.

Those lines are still meaningful, but now I find myself focusing on the last stanza:


We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to this scene…

I’ve been toying with new tattoo ideas, and I’m increasingly drawn to the idea of a knife, a camera, and a book of myths.


A knife is in this context is a tool, not a weapon – but serves the dual purpose of being utilitarian and just a tad bit threatening. A camera is a way of making a record of something, specifically a sort of record that is often considered evidence. And a book of myths? Well, perhaps that’s the thing that’s being explored. Those are the word maps, those are the words whose purposes are driving the diver.

That doesn’t mean those words are true, or factual, or even good. Myths, in and of themselves, are recognized fictions. But a myth, in a literary sense, also usually has a hero.

Or a heroine.

Lately, I’ve been wondering why so many countless names don’t appear. Why some people are excluded and made invisible. And I feel called to do more than study and philosophize, but actually to act. To dive into the wreck, and take a look at the thing, and begin the process of taking the myths and making them into something a bit more true.

I found the image above online, but I don’t know who to credit (and in all honestly, didn’t really investigate too thoroughly). If it’s yours and you want me to credit you or remove it, let me know and I will be glad to oblige. 


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