An oracle is a prophecy or prediction of the future transmitted through a priest. Audre Lorde’s “Summer Oracle” is a prophecy transmitted through the voice of an African American lesbian poet. The poem is a prophetic meditation on the consequences of hopelessness. In the first stanza of this thirty-seven-line poem, the reader is given the world without hope: “Without expectation/ there is no end/ to the shocks of morning/ or even a small summer.” At first it is difficult to grasp how the two basic and utterly unremarkable moments of beginning can be experienced as “shocks.” Yet in the world of the hopeless, where the morning leads to the inevitable night and the summer to the inevitable winter, there can be no “expectations” of the sort that make morning and summer emblems of hope and transformation.
The oracular voice of the poet begins in the second stanza to characterize and prophesy the world without “expectations.” What is described are expectations, but they are ones of fire and insurgency: “Now the image is fire/ blackening the vague lines/ into defiance across the city.” The oracle has presented an image, a way to understand what had in the first stanza been merely undefined “shocks.” “Defiance” defines the city, and the definition operates both in the sense that it gives meaning to the city and in the sense that it makes it visible. The sun, which had in the first stanza been a shocking reminder of a morning or a summer without expectations, has now become the “sun warming us in a cold country/ barren of symbols for love.” Once the definition of violence and defiance has been given to the cold and barren city, it begins to be possible to imagine something else: It becomes possible to imagine love, or at least the symbols for love.
In the next and longest stanza of the poem, Lorde shifts from addressing a social audience to addressing a specific “you” (a member of the barren city now defined with the image of fire). The defining force of defiance is personified, or made into a humanlike actor in the oracle’s vision. The earlier stanza had ended with a hope for “symbols of love,” but this stanza proclaims that Lorde has...
(The entire section is 901 words.)