What does Audre Lorde want to say in the poem "Coping"?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Though Audre Lorde did not offer an explanation or commentary on her poem "Coping" during her lifetime, one can read the poem as a metaphor for dealing with sadness or stress. The poem is quite short and describes a boy bailing water from puddles in a garden to save the sprouts which grow there, lest they "forget" the sun and drown. The title gives us insight into the possibility that this poem is more to do with emotional coping than weather and plants. (Though, indeed, plants must "cope" with the rain.)

Lorde struggled with a sense of alienation growing up, and as an adult, cancer and depression shaped her writing. Perhaps Lorde constructed the visual of this little boy in the garden as a representation of her own relationship with the process of coping. It is possible that the little boy in the garden existed, and the imagery and his efforts resonated with her own experiences. The sprouts the boy is trying to save may be read as Lorde's own emotional growth and well-being-- the sun, then, would be a sense of hope and joy. Someone who has never experienced joy might easily be swallowed up by depression and fail to cope for the lack of knowing anything better to be possible.

meg526 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Audre Lorde's "Coping" highlights feelings of despair and depression, which often are symbolized by rain, overcast ("sunless water" (5)), or drowning. Episodes of depression can feel interminable, as the speaker notes, "it has rained for five days running" (1-2). One day of rain is common, three days of rain starts to feel oppressive, five days of rain and one will wonder when the sun will shine again. It is during these episodes of depression that the sufferer has some choices to make; one of those choices is to cope. The speaker references the "small islands" (6) emerging from large puddles, hanging on but just barely. Slogging through a day with depression feels similar to these tiny islands, keeping a head above water, coping until the sun comes out again. In the final lines, the reader encounters a little boy "bailing out" the speaker's garden so that new seeds might survive the deluge (9-12). The boy could symbolize the optimism of youth, the sustenance the speaker finds in her own motherhood, or the strength that may be found in community. These lines suggest that other people are a necessary part of coping with depression.

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