Please help me analyze the poem, "From The House Of Yemanja" by Audre Lorde.

2 Answers

eir's profile pic

eir | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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A good place to start analyzing this poem is to look up the word “Yemanja,” a Carribean goddess, who is often called the mother of all.  The mythical tone of the poem is set up in its first stanza, but the frying pan image overlays the mythical idea of a goddess onto the everyday setting of a modern-day American kitchen.

Audrey Lorde is an American poet of Caribbean descent, and much of the poem navigates between the “dark and rich and hidden” mythical space, perhaps associated with the Caribbean. (Her parents were immigrants from Granada), and “the ivory hungers” of the world that the mother in this poem seems to want to conform to.

Much of the tension in the poem rests in the movement between the need for the mythical “black” “Mother” and an ordinary everyday “mother,” who might help the child navigate the two contradictory, but, like the sun and the moon, no less present sides of herself.

teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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This poem can seem cryptic without some understanding of Audre Lorde, a black feminist poet for whom the spiritual and the political were one. She is probably most famous for her notion of "erotics" as not necessarily sexual (though it can be that) but as deep communion and sharing with another person as well as the capacity to experience joy: for Lorde, communion and joy, which she understands as spiritual states, become the basis of a transformative politics.

Further, we should keep in mind that 

For Audre Lorde, knowledge of African myths and religions ... became “…the foundation of noneuropean female strength and power that nurtures each of our visions.

In this poem, the narrator is mourning the way being raised by a mother who has internalized white values has made it harder for her as a daughter to find her own strength and wholeness.

The poem opens with chilling images that unite domesticity with cannibalism:

My mother had two faces and a frying pot   
where she cooked up her daughters 
into girls 
before she fixed our dinner. 
In other words, the mother's traditional western domesticity destroyed ("cooked") something in her daughters that reduced them from daughters to girls. "Girls" is a diminutive word compared to "daughters," lacking in strength (after all, daughters can be adult women). The narrator carries with her her mother's values, calling this version or face of her mother "pale as a witch" and full of "ivory hungers," or the desire to be like a white person.
 
The narrator cries out for the different mother buried within her mother, who is "dark and rich and hidden." The need for this other mother is urgent, indicated by the narrator repeating "mother I need" three times:
Mother I need 
mother I need 
mother I need your blackness now   
as the august earth needs rain.
The narrator is "forever hungry" for this mythic black mother, who is both buried inside her mother ("hidden") and Yemanja, the African goddess mother who protects all women. The narrator, filled with longing, wants to break out of the restrictions white culture has placed on women and become more fully alive.
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