Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 503
One of Lorde’s best poems, “Walking Our Boundaries” was written after she was forced to confront her own mortality in a battle with breast cancer. About a walk she shared in the small garden surrounding the house that she and her partner owned, this poem is beautifully narrated and quietly blends symbolism together with deep feeling. The poem begins, “This first bright day has broken/ the back of winter./ We rise from war/ . . . / both stunned that sun can shine so brightly/ after all our pain.”
As the pair cautiously inspects their “joint holding,” they talk of “ordinary articles/ with relief.” A sense of delicacy and unexpected peace is conveyed, which implies just how severe was the “last winter’s storm.” In the midst of the symbolism Lorde employs, she does not lose her sense of perspective, saying that “it does not pay to cherish symbols/ when the substance/ lies so close at hand/ waiting to be held.” This thought blends into the next, as her lover’s hand “falls off the apple bark/ like casual fire/ along my back,” the light, affectionate touch breaking the back of her emotional winter as the sun has broken the back of the physical winter.
The calm delicacy of tone and technique in this poem is in startling contrast to the passions and turmoil Lorde expressed in The Cancer Journals, reflecting the peace that comes after “war”; the battle is, at least for the time being, over. In The Cancer Journals, Lorde wrote that it was very important for her to develop and regain her own sense of power, to be able to view herself as a warrior rather than a victim.
Her anger that the medical establishment encourages its patients to behave as victims is expressed in an extremely biting manner, and her writing drips with scorn as she details the ways in which she was encouraged to pretend, during treatment and after her mastectomy, that everything was back to normal. Another theme in The Cancer Journals, however, is the strength that Lorde gained through the love and support of her network of friends as well as her partner, who is compared to a sunflower. It is this love that she cherishes so deeply and for which she expresses her gratitude in “Walking Our Boundaries.”
The final stanza of “Walking Our Boundaries” continues the moods of delicacy, fragility, and wonder. The voices of the two women “seem too loud for this small yard/ too tentative for women/ so in love.” Despite the physical decay that has occurred (“the siding has come loose in spots”), the human spirit is triumphant (“our footsteps hold this place/ together/ as our place”), and the life surrounding and filling the house and garden is made possible by the joint decision of and the love between the partners. The poem ends on a beautiful note of hope: Although Lorde does not know when they will laugh freely again, they are planning to dig up another plot for the spring’s seeding.