Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483
“Power” is based on an actual event and Lorde’s personal reaction, which she recorded in her journal. While driving, Lorde heard a radio broadcast announcing the acquittal of a white policeman who had shot and killed a black ten-year-old. She was so furious and sickened that she felt that the...
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“Power” is based on an actual event and Lorde’s personal reaction, which she recorded in her journal. While driving, Lorde heard a radio broadcast announcing the acquittal of a white policeman who had shot and killed a black ten-year-old. She was so furious and sickened that she felt that the sky turned red, that she had to park the car before she drove it into a wall. Then and there, she inscribed her feelings of outrage over the decision of the jury of eleven white men and one black woman.
In the unforgettable imagery employed in “Power,” the streets of New York become “a desert of raw gunshot wounds,” a white desert where the only liquid for miles is the blood of a dead black child. Through this poem, Lorde tries to “make power out of hatred and destruction,” to heal her “dying son with kisses.” Yet she cannot help expressing her rage at the policeman’s comment, offered in his own defense, that “I didn’t notice the size or nothing else/ only the color.”
While expressing her rage over this story, “Power” also illuminates Lorde’s ability to provide what one critic has called a “relentlessly clinical analysis” that “often leads to a perception of human character that is, perhaps, the ultimate justification for art.” For example, Lorde writes that the black jurywoman said that she had been convinced, “meaning/ they had dragged her 4 10 black woman’s frame over the hot coals of four centuries of white male approval/ until she let go the first real power she ever had.” Lorde’s own powerful imagery returns in the following lines, as she compares this surrender to the jurywoman’s lining “her own womb with cement/ to make a graveyard for our children.”
The final stanza of “Power” begins with the poet unable to deal with the destruction and the rage she feels. As the stanza continues, what she fears and what her audience fears become one: Unless she (representing black youth) can learn from her experience, her rage will corrupt her. She will seem inert—until, one day, she will explode into frenzied violence against an elderly white woman “who is somebody’s mother.” In this version, Lorde hears “a greek chorus . . . singing in 3/4 time/ ’Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.’”
The haunting imagery serves to highlight the themes of rage and power that are woven through Lorde’s writings. She directs rage not only at the glaring injustice of racism, as characterized in “Power,” but also toward sexual oppression and, to a lesser extent, political issues and the slight cruelties of everyday life. Lorde is particularly sympathetic to the anguish of all outsiders, especially the young black population of New York. Despite the intense physical and emotional pain she and all outsiders experience, Lorde manages to transform that rage into a force for change.