Summary of “Power” by Audre Lorde

Written by Audre Lorde, a phenomenal poet and writer, “Power” is a jaw-dropping poetic piece. It brilliantly reflects on the destructive nature of hatred and the search for power through violence. The poem opens with a comparison between poetry and rhetoric, suggesting that poetry is rooted in a willingness to die for one’s beliefs. While on the other hand, rhetoric is about using words to manipulate others.

As the poem goes on, the speaker describes her miserable state of being lost in a desert, where the image of a child killed haunts her, and her stomach churns at the thought of the taste of his blood. Also, her trapping in an unknown desert represents her emotional state’s barrenness. Being in a miserable situation, The speaker shares a real-life incident in which a police officer shot and killed a ten-year-old boy in Queens and the officer’s subsequent trial.

The white officer was acquitted, and the speaker was outraged by the injustice of the situation. The poem ends when the speaker acknowledges her own destructive impulses and the fear that she will use her power in harmful ways. She recognizes that unless she learns to use the difference between poetry and rhetoric, she will become like a corrupt police officer and commit atrocities.

To read the full poem, please click here.

Major Themes in “Power”

Racial injustice, police brutality, fear, and realization are significant themes in this poem. The poem is written from the perspective of someone struggling with the trauma and grief caused by a tragic event. It shows her struggle to make sense of the things that cause tension in her mind.

The use of powerful and captivating images of brutal killing are used to convey the sense of despair and hopelessness that the speaker feels. The poem also highlights the theme of power and how it can be used for both good and evil. The speaker is trying to learn how to use the difference between poetry and rhetoric to use her own power to create change and fight against oppression.

Besides these key themes, the poem also touches on the theme of self-destruction. The speaker is trapped in a desert of raw gunshot wounds and thirsty for the blood of the child killed. This imagery conveys the sense of self-destructive behavior that the speaker engages in as they try to cope with the trauma of the event. Moreover, the poem also talks about white supremacy and how it has been used to justify killing a child by a white police officer. Thus, this free verse poem brilliantly sheds light on how the justice system is stacked against people of color and how the white majority can control the outcome of a trial in favor of a white police officer.

Analysis of the Poetic Elements Used in “Power”  

Poetic and literary elements create a lasting impact in the simple poems. These devices effectively convey the writer’s ideas and emotions to the audience. Audre Lorde has also added some poetic elements to this poem to make it appealing. The analysis of the devices added in the poem is as follows.

  • Allusion: The reference to a Greek chorus singing in 3/4 time is an allusion to ancient Greek plays, where a chorus would comment on the action and provide insight into the character’s emotions. In this context, the allusion highlights the disconnect between the chorus’s view of the situation and the speaker’s reality.
  • Hyperbole: Hyperbole is used to exaggerate any ordinary situation. The writer uses this device in the poem when she says, “my mouth splits into dry lips without loyalty or reason, thirsting for the wetness of his blood.” It is an exaggeration used to convey the intensity of the speaker’s emotions.
  • Irony: The irony of the policeman who killed a ten-year-old boy being set free by a jury while the speaker is trapped in their own despair is used to highlight the injustice of the situation.
  • Imagery: Imagery is used to make the poem appealing. The use of elective and powerful images helps the readers to visualize the situation being described in words. The imagery of the dead child and the blood from his punctured cheeks create a vivid and disturbing picture in the reader’s mind.
  • Metaphor: The poet uses fear and hatred as extended metaphors in the poem to show how these two feelings drag a person toward hopelessness and despair.
  • Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to non-human things. The writer has used this device effectively in the poem when she personifies the sun that it bleaches the bones of the dead child.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism is using words and symbols that signify various ideas. The symbol of the “graveyard for our children” created by the Black woman lining her own womb with cement represents the loss of innocence and the tragedy of children being killed.
  • Repetition: Repetition is used to reinforce the specific idea in the poem. The repetition of the phrase “tapes to prove it” emphasizes the evidence of the injustice and the speaker’s disbelief in the trial’s outcome

Suggested Readings

“The Room of My Life” by Anne Sexton

“A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou