Friday, March 26, 2021

Mythical masculinity in Adrienne Rich's "The Knight"

In Adrienne Rich's "The Knight" (1957) from "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law" (1963), the knight reflects the light of the sun at noon and thus stands in the center of things. But the light's reflection in his armor becomes "a thousand splintered suns," while "under the radiant casque", his clothes are "rags and tatters", his nerves "worn to ribbons". This image of the harmful effect of a mythical masculinity on the wearer of such armor connects Rich's poem with works like Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (1956) that more explicitly challenged the era's conformity and representations of gender, as Rich later began doing with the title poem of the collection "The Knight" appears in. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 March 2021)


The Knight

Adrienne Rich, "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law"


A knight rides into the noon,

and his helmet points to the sun,

and a thousand splintered suns

are the gaiety of his mail.

The soles of his feet glitter

and his palms flash in reply,

and under his crackling banner

he rides like a ship in sail.


A knight rides into the noon,

and his only eye is living,

a lump of bitter jelly

set in a metal mask,

betraying rags and tatters

that cling to the flesh beneath

and wear his nerves to ribbons

under the radiant casque.


Who will unhorse this rider

and free him from between

the walls of iron, the emblems

crushing his chest with their weight?

Will they defeat him gently,

or leave him hurled on the green,

his rags and wounds still hidden

under the great breastplate?

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