The House Of Yemanjá Summary
“From the House of Yemanjá” is a 1978 poem by Audre Lord about the tensions the speaker feels in relation to her mother, to her society, and to her own dual identity.
- The speaker describes her mother as having two faces, as well as her own sense of disappointing her mother.
- The speaker figuratively carries two women, one “dark and rich” and the other hungry for “ivory,” suggesting an adherence to white society.
- The speaker expresses a need for her mother’s Blackness and notes that the dual aspects of her identity cannot be one.
Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656
Audre Lorde’s poem “From The House Of Yemanjá” was first published in her 1978 collection The Black Unicorn. Lorde’s poetry is often intensely personal, and “From The House of Yemanjá” acts as an exploration of the speaker’s—as well as Lorde’s own—relationships with concepts such as Blackness, womanhood, multiculturalism, mythology, and family. Lorde embraced the multifaceted range of identities that made up her lived experience, describing herself as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” By invoking Yemanjá—an Afro-Caribbean goddess who governs and protects all things relating to women—Lorde grounds her personal explorations of race and gender in a mythological framework and reinforces the strength that can be found in both Blackness and femininity.
The first stanza introduces the speaker’s mother, who is depicted as having “two faces and a frying pot.” The frying pot takes on a sinister note, as the mother uses it to “cook up her daughters into girls,” changing them based upon her own vision. The mother then serves her daughters their dinner, creating a contrast between the expectations of domesticity and motherhood and the apparent violence of cooking one’s children into a new form. The speaker then repeats that her “mother has two faces,” although now the frying pot is “broken,” revealing the second face of this aloof mother. The broken pot is being used to hide a “perfect daughter,” who is not the speaker. Instead, the speaker is “the sun and moon and forever hungry” for her mother’s recognition. However, this recognition does not appear to be forthcoming, and the speaker must instead orbit her mother in vain.
The second stanza expands on the speaker’s relationship with the “two women upon [her] back.” Each of these women is a mother figure to the speaker, but the “dark and rich” mother is hidden away within the “ivory hungers” of the other mother, who is as “pale as a witch.” These two mothers seem to represent the cultural split between whiteness and Blackness that the speaker struggles with. She craves the acknowledgment and acceptance of her mother, but she fears that the Black parts of her heritage have been consumed by an obsession with fitting in with white society and culture. However, for all that the ivory hungers of her mother bring “terror,” she is also a “steady and familiar” presence who provides “anchors in the midnight storm,” reinforcing the complexity inherent in relationships between mothers and daughters.
The third stanza notes that “all of this has been before,” suggesting that the speaker’s quest to connect with the “dark and rich” mother is not a new pursuit. The speaker also mentions that her siblings will not be of any help, as she has “no brothers” and her “sisters are cruel.” The “perfect daughter” that her mother once hid away in a broken pot has perhaps internalized the “ivory hungers” of the two-faced mother and thus has no sympathy for the speaker’s plight.
The fourth stanza is an entreaty to the “blackness” within the speaker’s mother, which the speaker says she “needs” in the same way that the earth needs rain. Blackness is figured as nourishment for the speaker, and she calls out to the part of her mother that has so long remained hidden beneath the “ivory hungers.”
The final stanza recalls the metaphor from the end of the first stanza, in which the speaker compares herself to “the sun and the moon” and reiterates that she is “forever hungry.” The speaker is herself a “sharpened edge,” honed by years of neglect and perceived imperfection, and she states that although day and night may meet, they will always be separate. Following the conceit of the poem, this final image indicates that although the dualities of whiteness and Blackness that her mother has passed on to her may join within her, they cannot be reconciled into a uniform identity.