Muriel Rukeyser:Poems Summary

Muriel Rukeyser:Poems Summary

St. Roach

In the poem “St. Roach” the speaker is addressing cockroaches (the titular St. Roach), reflecting on their changing attitude towards the insects.

In the first (and longest) stanza the speaker expresses regret for not knowing anything about the roaches' culture or language and for never having looked closely enough to be able to tell one roach from the other, even though they claim to have always noticed that roaches were “dark, fast […] and slender” (l. 11). The speaker explains that from childhood onwards they were taught that roaches were dirty and should not only be avoided but actively hunted and killed. The last lines of the first stanza imply that the speaker has reached adulthood by now and has taught the same lesson to other children as well.

In the second stanza the speaker reveals that their change of attitude was sparked by the close observation of one roach the day before and how they, for the first time, noticed a difference between the roaches. This inspired the speaker to look even closer and their conclusion was that the roaches “seemed troubled and witty” (l. 27).

In the last stanza the speaker describes how they just reached out to touch a roach for the first time. While the roaches fled, the speaker experienced this touch in a very positive way and ends the poem determined to finally get to know the roaches.

Waiting for Icarus

In the poem “Waiting for Icarus” the speaker, a woman, is waiting on a beach on Crete for her lover Icarus to return.

(Icarus is a character from Greek mythology who uses wax to build wings with his father in order to escape from the island of Crete. Despite his father's warnings of wax being sensitive to heat, during their escape Icarus flies too close to the sun which melts his waxen wings and consequently has him crash into the sea and die.)

In the first stanza the speaker recounts all the promises that Icarus made to her prior to leaving the island with his father. Icarus assured the speaker that the waxen wings were safe, that he would return to begin a new life with her and asked the speaker to wait for him on the beach.

In the second stanza the speaker describes the details of waiting for him on that beach for the entire day. When night slowly approaches, implying that he will not return, the speaker recounts how she was ridiculed by other women and reprimanded by her mother for believing he would.

In the last lines the speaker reflects that she would have preferred trying the wings herself to the wait, which could either mean that she is regretting her passivity (and having fallen for his promises) or that she wishes to have died instead of/with him.


The poem “Orgy” minutely describes the first moments of a sexual encounter between an unnamed man and two unnamed women on a hot evening in July.

The poem begins with the affirmation that the threesome was a consensual decision as was the location, apparently initiated by the man calling one of the women, who seems nervous but still freshens up for the encounter.

First the man arrives, then the other woman and they each begin to slowly remove parts of their clothing. The poem trails off after all three of them have taken off their shoes and belts, the man his tie and the women their scarves.

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