Analysis on ‘Amends’

Amends – by Adrienne Rich


  • A feminist
  • Amends shows how she believed that women went unnoticed (night, sleeping people) and that women are left to make amends for other people’s actions


  • Amends definition =
    • to compensate or make up for a wrong doing
    • moon making amends for faults in the world/environment
    • 1ststanza =
      • “nights like this” = from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice opening lines Act 5
        • helps set the scene
        • automatically links poem with moon

The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,

When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,

And they did make no noise, in such a night,

Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls,

And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,

Where Cressid lay that night.

  • “cold” =
    • cold atmosphere
    • suggests that it is at night-time
    • harsh word
  • “white star” =
    • further suggests night-time
    • either apple blossoms of tree falling/moonlight reflections
  • “then another” =
    • Repeatedly happening
    • Multitude of either blossoms or moonlight beams
  • “exploding” =
    • Violent
    • Incongruous to the rest of the poem
    • Harsh word
    • Interrupts stanza’s silence
  • “moonlight picking” =
    • 1st proper mention of moonlight
    • Personifies moon = has human qualities
    • Reflecting off some stones more than others
  • “small stones” =
    • Poem starts off at a small level, small range of view
  • Use of colons =
    • Lists/itemises the progression from sky to tree to ground
  • Mood =
    • Busy = moonlight “picking”, “exploding”
  • No rhyming
  • 2ndstanza =
    • “greater stones” =
      • Broader range of view
      • ‘zoomed out’
  • “rises with surf” =
    • Reflection in water
    • Transparent effect
    • Seems to be bobbing up and down with the waves
  • “laying its cheek” =
    • Relaxing
    • Appeals to sense of touch
    • Strongly links moonlight with femininity = nurturing, loving, caring
  • “moments” =
    • longer amount of time than picking
    • Light reflecting on sand more than on stones
  • “sand” =
    • Links with relaxation (beaches = relaxing places)
  • “licks” =
    • Semi-appeal to taste
    • Personifies moonlight as being a caring, feminine, motherly figure (animals lick other animals if they are hurt/young)
  • “broken” =
    • Confirms moonlight’s caring nature = licking it better
    • Shows that moonlight = trying to repair the damages (make amends)
  • “flows up the cliffs” =
    • Flows like water = links back to the surf
    • Lots of reflection on the cliffs
    • Cliffs common near beaches
    • Uncontrolled (liquids take shape of container), yet relaxed (no use of violent language e.g. “exploding” form stanza 1
  • “flicks” =
    • Not much reflection on tracks
  • “tracks” =
    • Common near beaches as well
    • Commonly found in relaxing environments
  • “picks”, “licks”, “flicks” =
    • Rhyme
    • Give the sense that the moonlight is only lightly touching the environment
    • Further link to femininity
  • “it” =
    • Refers to moonlight
    • Makes the reader forget that it is moonlight = adds to personification
  • Mood & rhythm =
    • Relaxed
    • Calm

Stanza 3

‘as it unavailing pours into the gash’

Unavailing means pointless, possibly suggesting it is too weak, although there is a lot of light. Referencing to early feminism movements, with a lot of female support, but at first no power was available. Gash = wound created by humans.

‘of the sand-and-gravel quarry’

Quarry links back to gash = humans are destroying the environment

‘as it leans across the hangared fuselage’

It can lean across the fuselage as the light reflects off the metallic surface. Personification, further reference to women. Lack of balance (leaning as opposed to standing up freely). Light shines off man-made objects in a stunted way compared with how it shines off natural objects. Fuselage = the main body of the plane. Hangared = almost portrays the plane as sleeping/ in bed (links to the later mentioned “sleepers”).

‘of the crop dusting plane’

Good reflection, ability to identify specifically that it is a crop-dusting plane reveals that light is more useful or powerful as it seems, a contradiction to the pouring into the gash. Allusion to gaining force of feminism movement.

Stanza 4

‘as it soaks through cracks into the trailers’

Soaks suggest that the trailer is saturated in light. For it to saturate the trailer in light, it must be very bright and powerful – it is slowly gathering more energy. It is a liquid-like (water = links back to the water in stanza 2) motion, smooth, agile quiet, gentle. Very feminine. May symbolise that feminism is gaining more ground. Cracks = light enters anywhere possible; light cannot be destroyed = breaks through defences (e.g. walls) with ease. Trailers = poor people, suggests the human damage done to nature has also made humans worse off.

‘tremulous with sleep’

Tremulous describes their bodies and minds shaking and afraid. Direct contrast to the moon, whose light and movement is smooth and gentle. The whole place is asleep.

‘as it dwells upon the eyelids of the sleepers’

Dwelling is a gentle verb, the light can be easily imagined as slowly landing on the eyelids. The moonlight is protects the sleepers. Femininity portrayed through the light = women always looking out for others; caring, gentle. Poet also suggests that women do not get credit for this (“sleepers” don’t notice the light on their eyes)

‘as if to make amends’

The light sympathises with the sleepers, attempts to comfort them. No reference to feminism at all, suggesting that the well-being of mankind is more important than arguments over which sex is superior. “as if” = uncertain about the true motives behind the moons doings. First time the moon is described as being inanimate/not in control of itself.

8. Explore the ways in which Adrienne Rich conveys a sense of mood and atmosphere in the poem Amends

In the poem Amends, Adrienne Rich creates a cold, still, clear atmosphere in which the moon tries to compensate for something it has done in the past.

The atmosphere of Amends is influenced by the setting. Being set on “Nights like this” creates a cool, dark atmosphere contrasted all of a sudden with “white star(s)” “exploding out of the bark” in huge numbers, lighting up the sky. The atmosphere is also human free, with the poem mainly dealing with inanimate objects, which is contrasted through the poet personifying the moon.

“Nights like this”, alluded from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, clearly links the poem to the moon, as the line in which it is taken from discusses how very bright the moon was. This accentuates the clear sky in which the moon can shine so brightly.

A prevalent silence falls over the poem, emphasising the still atmosphere. This is suddenly juxtaposed with the stars “exploding”. This silence is predominantly due to the human free nature of the poem. This is because everyone is sleeping. Ironically, the moon comes out almost timidly, “picking at small stones”. In stanza 2 assonance adds to this silence through the repetition of the “-icks” sound in “picks”, “licks” and “flicks” which sound like whispers. The repetitive “f” sound in the words “surf”, “flows” and “cliffs” also adds to the whispers. The atmosphere is also very tranquil and flowing, created in stanza 2, as the moon “licks the broken ledge”, then “flows up the cliffs” and “flicks across the tracks”.

In the poem, stars explode in the sky, and, unlike the moon, appear boldly and bright white in the sky. White light is intense light. This intensity is emphasised by their “exploding out of the bark”. For the stars to shine so brightly the sky must be clear. A clear, cloudless sky accentuates the coldness as all the heat can escape the world. But then, a clear sky also means the weather is good and rainless.

Adrienne Rich creates a sad mood in her poem, implying that the moon has done something wrong to the world, but whatever it does to try to make up for this is obsolete as everyone is “tremulous with sleep”. The moon is also reminiscent that is can’t do more, because it “dwells upon the eyelids of the sleepers”. This sad mood is exemplified with the word “gash” which links to the wound which the moon has created on the earth. Rich evokes this sadness in the reader as everything the moon does is redundant because everyone is asleep, totally unaware and unappreciative.

By personifying and giving the moon human features and emotions, Rich easily conveys to the reader what the moon does on “nights like this”, and the dilemma it is in. It is also made clear that the moon has a close relationship with the sand because it lays “its cheek” on it.

Adrienne Rich touches on the destruction of nature by man in stanza 3 of “Amends”. This is more evidence of the mournful mood of the poem. The moon “pours into the gash” of the “sand and gravel quarry”. The moon is distraught at this gash made in the earth especially because it is a sand quarry, linking to it “laying its cheek on the sand” the stanza before. This relationship is emphasised as the moon “pours” its light into the quarry, showing the rush to get light into it as quickly as water pours over a waterfall. The moonlight is also likened to water when “it soaks through cracks into the trailers”.

Therefore, Adrienne Rich creates a still, cold, human free atmosphere; with a sad, regretful mood as the moon attempts to make amends.


10 thoughts on “Analysis on ‘Amends’

  1. Adrienne Rich (born in Baltimore in 1929) once wrote:
    ‘Poetry is, among other things, a criticism of language.
    In setting words together in new configurations, in the
    mere, immense shift from male to female pronouns, in
    the relationship between words created through echo,
    repetition, rhythm, rhyme, it lets us hear our words in a
    new dimension.’

    Line 11: hangared fuselage: the body of an aeroplane in a hangar

    a. What tone is created (and how) in the first three lines?
    b. How is the moon personified?
    c. What is the effect of the repetition of “as it”?
    d. How does the last line change your perception of the poem?
    e. Why is it called “Amends”?

  2. hello can anyone answer this questions
    a. What tone is created (and how) in the first three lines?
    b. How is the moon personified?
    c. What is the effect of the repetition of “as it”?
    d. How does the last line change your perception of the poem?
    e. Why is it called “Amends”?

      1. Hi Natasha,
        Glad to hear that you have found the site useful. Good luck for the Lit exam if you are sitting for it next week.

    1. This poem has been thematically linked to feminism, as the moon is a symbolic reference to women. But I prefer to see the poem as one about healing and forgiveness, hence amends…?

    1. Ooh, yes, that’s the hardest line. Actually fuselage refers to the body of an aeroplane and the poet is trying to convey that the the beam of moonlight is reflecting differently to a man-made object, the hangared/resting fuselage than other natural objects. It’s amends it for its hard work.

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