midst the 1960s’ controversial immigration system, American poet Adrienne Rich published a poem that addressed directly towards immigrants. Having witnessed the massive flow of people moving across borders in search of a better future despite facing many constraints and adversity in reaching their promised lands, Rich apprised these potential poems with professionally cold yet genuinely insightful advice through the 1963’s “Prospective Immigrants Please Note.” Instead of a blindly positive message from a proud patriot welcoming new people into his land of hope, Rich’s poem feels more like a piece of honest and blunt advice from an observant and experienced bystander.
The author opens the poem with a pair of conjunction – “either” and “or” – depicting the perplexity of people standing in front of a country’s border, which was described through the metaphor of a “door.” These immigrants are anxious about their decision, questioning if leaving or staying is the best option for their future. Rich’s usage of the conjunctions instead of questions might suggest that the immigrants themselves are too occupied in such a life-changing decision to even form a proper question.
In a free-versed poem with no clear rhyme scheme and limited introduction of poetic devices, Rich is still able to convey her messages beautifully with a few yet effective metaphors. In the next stanza, Rich goes on to caution that if they “go through [the door],” they might risk “remembering [their] name.” Specifically, in the next stanza, Rich goes on to caution that if they “go through [the door],” they might risk “remembering [their] name.” Here, the action ofgoing throughornot going throughcan be understood as deciding to migrate to another country, presumably a more developed one, or staying in one’s homeland. The phraseremembering one’s name, however, is even more sophisticated. It means that the would-be newcomer might miss their origin. It could also be interpreted in an even more extreme way, that is the immigrant might have to assimilate to the host country’s culture, rejecting their identity or even worse – regretting the decision to come here in the first place. Indeed, when we look at the third stanza, Rich might very much suggest the later meaning. She reminded the prospective immigrants that if they chose to stay, they still could enjoy a fulfilling life while embracing their genesis and values; they would be able to retain the pre-existing relationship and the societal positions they have built for a long time; they would die bravely in their home country. By contrasting these outcomes and providing an alternative to the stereotyped American Dream-styled success stories of newcomers, it might seem that Rich is discouraging these people from crossing the “door.” However, if we pay close attention to words like “possible” or “always,” we can see that the author is just honest and objective about the risk. In other words, these two stanzas are telling the immigrants that success and happiness are not guaranteed in these seemingly promised lands, nor they are non-existent in their homelands. This sentiment was strengthened in the next two stanzas, where Rich boldly warned people that such blindly positive expectation might come at a great cost, that a new country is just another country (“a door […] is only a door”). What the outcomes might be cannot be forecasted before going through the door.
“Prospective Immigrants Please Note” gives an honest perspective that any choices might lead to positive or negative consequences and nothing is guaranteed. The author has succeeded in crafting a very neutral, somewhat cold yet still caring piece of advice despite not showing any pitiful sentiment or sympathy towards the immigrants. It is an effort to help the potential immigrants make a well-informed decision that is not being blinded by the aura of the grass is greener on the other side-ish sentiment.