Themes and Meanings

“Summer Oracle” is about envisioning the future; it conveys a sense of impending disturbance and political unrest in the ghettoes of the United States, but it also, by the end, suggests the possibility of purification and personal authenticity. The necessary rebirth can come only after the old historical forces have in some way been destroyed. This is made clear in the image of the canefields burning after the harvest—the burning of the crushed sugarcane refuse is a stark analogy to the destruction that the poem forecasts for the city. When the poem begins, the future is seen as shocking, unmapped by hopes and expectations. As the poem progresses, the indistinct sense of the city is replaced by precision, defiance, and the warming of a “cold country” that had been without the “symbols of love.”

Lorde is able to look at her city and the people of her city and say to them that she is able to “imagine you into fire.” The theme of fire in its many forms (as the sun, as the magical fire that the warlock’s fingers draw, as the burning canefields, and finally as the burnt body from whom “charred breezes” blow back to the poet) gives Lorde the multiple visions of fire as destroyer and purifier. Finally the “Summer Oracle” foretells itself and holds within itself the warning and promise of urgent political change.