Rita Dove's "Adolescence I, II, III"

Updated on September 27, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Rita Dove



Former poet laureate Rita Dove offers a unique three-pronged expression of the mind and vision of an adolescent girl in her "Adolescence" poems.

Rita Dove’s “Adolescence" consists of three parts, each titled “Adolescence” and numbered. The theme reveals the emotional turbulence of the pre-adult years in the life of a young girl.

Adolescence-I: "In water-heavy nights behind grandmother’s porch"

In "Adolescence-I," the speaker recalls a time when she and her sister would go out “behind grandmother’s porch” to urinate in the yard. The house was not equipped yet with indoor plumbing, and the outhouse used by daylight was too far from the house, so at night the girls employed the yard for their purpose.

The speaker reports that her sister, Linda, philosophically tinged with experience, informs her that, “A boy's lips are soft, / As soft as baby's skin.” The remark affects the speaker rather dramatically, and she claims that she “could hear street lamps ping / Into miniature suns / Against the feathery sky.” The news surprises the speaker, making her uncertain about the prospect of that experience.

Adolescence-II: "Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom, waiting"

In "Adolescence-II," some time has passed and the young girl’s household has changed, for she is now “sit[ting] in the bathroom.” She no longer has to make use of the yard for a relieving facility. Instead of her sister accompanying her, she has her vivid imagination.

She observes, “Venetian blinds slice up the moon; the tiles quiver in pale strips.” She concentrates on the surreal motion of the tiles, and then she imagines “the three seal men” have entered the bathroom to visit her. But they ask her, "Can you feel it yet?" She has no answer for them, and so “They chuckle” and say, "Well, maybe next time." They depart the bathroom leaving, “ragged holes,” and the speaker grabs onto the “ragged holes” and notices that “Night rests like a ball of fur on my tongue.”

The speaker has become intoxicated, as adolescents are wont to do. Her “seal men” represent the pink elephant that many drunks experience. Because the speaker is enamored by the process of writing, she notices that the “seal men” looked like “[g]littering” “pools of ink under moonlight.”

Adolescence-III: "With Dad gone, Mom and I worked"

In "Adolescene-III," the final section of the poem, she speaker and her mother are working in the garden tending tomatoes. He father is no longer with them. The speaker is pregnant and “swelling out / Starched cotton slips.”

The speaker describes the twilight as “Lengths of Dotted Swiss,” and she then recalls that she used to wear dresses to “big-band dances.” But now she uses those dresses to “wrap[ ] scarred knees.” She then looks out of her window and dreams of being rescued by her knight in shining armor.

Only this knight simply wears a “carnation over his heart,” but he does say to her, "I have come for you, Madam; / I have loved you in my dreams." His magic touch makes all of her problems disappear, until she looks past him and catches a glimpse of “[her] father coming toward [them]: / He carries his tears in a bowl, / And blood hangs in the pine-soaked air.”

Her dream is brusquely interrupted by this unsolicited apparition. Her adolescence will continue in its awkward, knee-scabbed way.

PBS Interview with Rita Dove

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


    Submit a Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)