The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Audre Lorde’s poem “The Night-Blooming Jasmine” expresses its author’s meditation on the “Lady of the Night,” a fragrant, night-flowering jasmine plant native to the tropics, whose white, five-cleft blooms resemble stars. The poem is made up of a series of reflections on a night-blooming jasmine the speaker encounters “along the searoad” between her “house” and “tasks” that lie before her. In five stanzas of five to twelve lines of free verse, the speaker describes how the sight of the flowers opening at night triggers or “calls down” the desire to create a song about the “star-breathed” or five-cleft blooms of jasmine. She imagines this song played on “a flute/ carved from the legbone of a gull,” an instrument appropriate to the nature of the flower.

In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker begins to find points of comparison between herself and the night-blooming flower. She describes herself as a being strung together with wire “upon which pain will not falter/ nor predict.” The speaker admits she has not been a stranger to the “arena” of pain, suggesting she has fought this adversary before at “high noon” much like a gladiator or bullfighter or gunfighter. She finds this pain is not “an enemy/ to be avoided” but rather a “challenge.” From the challenge of her pain, the speaker’s “neck [grows] strong.” The metal at the core of her being, once “struck” by the challenge of pain, rings...

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The Night-Blooming Jasmine Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “The Night-Blooming Jasmine,” Lorde uses the central image of a night-blooming flower to present an intellectual and emotional complex of thoughts associated with death by disease. The first stanza, comprising the first five lines of the poem, is echoed in the final seven lines of the poem, the last stanza, which bring closure to the poem and suggest the arc of its content. The “tasks” that lay before the speaker in the first stanza disappear in the final stanza, reinforcing the thought that the speaker’s “sweet work” is done. The song of the “flute/ carved from the legbone of a gull” remains from the first to last stanza. However, the final stanza contains two lines which do not appear in the first stanza: “your rich voice/ riding the shadows of conquering air.” This addition suggests that a certain amount of control, together with the material of the poem itself (which exists as an entity of the sound of the voice carried on the air), has been gained by the speaker over the course of the the movement of mind that constitutes the poem.

The poem opens with an invocation of the “Lady of the Night,” an entreaty that calls to mind the image of not only the night-blooming jasmine but also the nocturnal streetwalker and the color of the speaker’s African American skin. “Metal” and “wire” are the first images the speaker uses to describe herself; however, as the poem progresses, these metallic images give way to organic ones associated with bees and the flowers they frequent during the day. Bees cannot visit those who are “night-blooming,” a mental representation the speaker uses to describe herself as she approaches the time of her death. Yet she does point out the similarity between herself and bees laden with pollen, which die in flight fulfilling their “need” for “sweet work.”

The Night-Blooming Jasmine Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Avi-Ram, Amitai F. “Apo Koinou in Lorde and the Moderns: Defining the Differences.” Callaloo 9 (Winter, 1986): 193-208.

Hull, Gloria T. “Living on the Line: Audre Lorde and Our Dead Behind Us.” In Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women, edited by Cheryl A. Wall. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989.

Olson, Lester C. “Liabilities of Language: Audre Lorde Reclaiming Difference.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 84, no. 4 (November, 1998): 448-470.

Opitz, May, Katharine Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz, eds. Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out. Translated by Anne V. Adams. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Parker, Pat. Movement in Black: The Collected Poetry of Pat Parker. Oakland, Calif.: Diana Press, 1978.

Perreault, Jeanne. Writing Selves: Contemporary Feminist Autography. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.