The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Audre Lorde’s “Rooming Houses Are Old Women” is a thirty-line free-verse lyric that expresses the emotional and spiritual state of impoverished, lonely, old black women. The poem is laid out in three parts, the longest being the first, with fifteen lines, and the shortest being the three-line middle section. At first, these parts seem to be simply demarcations of setting, as it were, slowly moving readers, along with the old women, from the interior of rooming houses to the exterior world and back again, but a closer reading shows that they are intended to lead to inward states after an exploration of external circumstances.

The slow movement is perfectly congruent with the slow shuffle of the women, whose mundane “waiting,” “rocking,” “shuffling,” and “searching” express the essence of their being. However, the poem is more a particularly candid depiction of urban blight and the burdens of isolation, age, and poverty than it is a philosophical inquiry into socioeconomic injustice, alienation, or desolation.

Lorde shows keen insight into the lives of the underprivileged, as she focuses on feelings of disconnection and falterings. The poem offers a sympathetic view, but it does not make any bald accusations against a particular agency. Instead, it gently and sensitively describes the aching vulnerability of the victimized women. The first stanza has substantial physicality because of the setting and the emblems of poverty...

(The entire section is 478 words.)