Power

Warning: The poem has profanity and graphic description of violence. Hence it is not suitable for children under 16.

Power

by Audre Lorde

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
yourself
instead of your children.

i am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.

A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little ******” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.

Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” 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
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
r******* an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a Greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”

Summary of Power

  • Popularity of “Power”: This poem was written by Audre Lorde. It takes about racial discrimination, the abuse of power, and injustice. It was first published in 1978. The poem speaks about the unjust action of a white cop, who mercilessly shot and killed a ten-year-old boy in the street. It also expresses the speaker’s angry reaction toward this brutality. The poem has explicit words and graphic descriptions that may not be pleasant to read or visualize.
  • “Power” As a Representative of Prejudice: The poem reflects the racial discrimination and segregation of African Americans at the hands of white supremacy. The poem starts with a contrast between rhetoric and poetry. The speaker says that poetry, with its metaphorical and imagistic power, is capable of speaking about the brutalities that are only discussed and forgotten. She expresses her fury and anger at a white police officer who shots a ten-year-old boy in Queens only because of his skin color, and there is evidence of this barbarity, too. Yet, despite having substantial pieces of evidence of his atrocious crime, the policeman is set free by the jury of eleven white men thinking the justice is served. Unfortunately, whites have been enjoying this supremacy for centuries.
    Therefore, applying their unfair tactics, they have convinced the mother of the victim, robbing her real power as a junior. As the poet has witnessed all these tragedies on hand, she is unable to deal pain she feels for the victim. She adds, unless she learns from this traumatic experience, her own literary power will become corrupt to the extent that one day she will harm an elderly lady without considering future consequences. The poem ends with the confusion that the ‘woman’ is innocent and didn’t deserve to be hurt.
  • Major Themes in “Power”: Powerlessness of the black, supremacy of the white, and anger are the major themes underlined in this poem. The poem can be interpreted on two levels; non-literal and literal. On a literal level, it speaks about the ultimate power of the white cop that gives him the right to kill the poor boy. While on a poetic level, it speaks about the speaker’s feelings of disgust over this heart-wrenching incident. Keeping this incident in the background, she highlights the unbridled freedom of the whites that replaces it with the power of her race. The cop’s ability to protect his race is turned into an inhuman act. However, by utilizing her poetic gift, the speaker wants to make people think and react toward these racial injustices.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Power”

Literary devices are tools used by writers to add deeper meanings to their texts. Their appropriate use connects the readers with the writers’ emotions and the subject. Audre Lorde has also used some literary devices in this poem to explore the phenomenon of life. The analysis of some literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in “is being ready to kill” and the sound of /oo/ in “there are tapes to prove that, too.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /n/ in “I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else” and the sound of /t/ in “there are tapes to prove that, too”.
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /l/ in “only the sun will bleach his bones quicker” and the sound of /t/ in “and connect it to the nearest socket”.
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; instead, it continues to the next line. For example,

“The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
yourself
instead of your children.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens”, “and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed”, and “blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders.”
  2. Symbolism: Symbolism is a use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings different from their literal meanings. Here, poetry symbolizes freedom of expression, and the white policeman is the symbol of white supremacy.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Power”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian Poetry. Here, only the first stanza is a quatrain.
  1. Repetition: There is a repetition of the verse “there are tapes to prove that” which has created a musical quality in the poem.
  2. Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in a poem are called refrain. The verse, “there are tapes to prove that” is repeated with the same words. Hence, it has become a refrain as it has been repeated in the third stanza of the poem.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas in this poem, with each having a different number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful while talking about the importance of poetry.

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
yourself
instead of your children.”