The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Audre Lorde’s “Hanging Fire” is a poem of thirty-five lines of free verse. The poem is divided into three stanzas with lines ranging in length from two to seven syllables. The persona, a fourteen-year-old female, uses terse, declarative sentences, speaking directly to her audience, making readers aware of her anxieties, her isolation, and her loneliness. She explains that she is in love with an immature boy who still sucks his thumb in private, that she is worried about her ashy knees and a skin that has “betrayed her,” and that she is occupied with death and dying, for she says, “what if I die before morning.” While all of these issues worry the teenager, what affects her most is the fact that her mother is unapproachable: “and mamma is in the bedroom/ with the door closed.”

In the second stanza the teenager continues her direct address, making readers aware of her social inadequacies and allowing them to see her inner self. She indicates that she needs to improve her social skills by affirming that she has to learn how to dance, yet she states that there is nothing that she really wants to do. However, she admits that there is “too much/ that has to be done.” The ambiguous messages that are sent in these lines of needing to learn how to dance, of not really wanting to do anything, and of having too many things that need to be done indicate that the young girl lacks direction and that she truly needs the guidance of an adult,...

(The entire section is 453 words.)