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Audre Lorde’s poem “Hanging Fire” looks at life through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old. What the young teenager sees is not a happy and secure childhood. The tone of this poem could be described as “foreboding,” which means “fearful apprehension.”
Poets develop their tone by the use of diction, which is word choice. Compared to other forms of writing, poetic language is spare—every word needs to carry significant meaning; there just isn’t room for words that don’t help the poet convey his point. In considering the tone of a poem, a careful reader can usually find some key words that the poet uses to create it.
In “Hanging Fire” one good example of diction that develops tone comes in the second half of that first stanza with:
what if I die
The implication here is obvious—the thought of death, especially such an imminent death, should not be what is on the mind of a fourteen-year-old.
Poets often repeat key elements of diction in one way or another, and Lorde does this near the end of the poem with these lines:
will I live enough
to grow up
These lines echo the subject’s thought of death from the first stanza. He or she is filled with mortal fear of what might happen in the near future, which is the sense of foreboding that forms the tone of the poem.
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