Audre Lorde’s “Power” and “A Litany for Survival”

Audre Lorde’s “Power” and “A Litany for Survival”

Among the poetry works of Audre Lorde are the “Power” and “A Litany for Survival.” Audre Lorde is one of the most prominent poets in history. She has covered so many poetic works, but these two poetical works made her name rise highly. The two poetic works are some of Audre most significant poems that had a tremendous impact on society in general.


The poems Power and A Litany for Survival are as a result of a long struggle to develop a picture that would expose an extensive range of audience to Lorde’s genius. The works of Audre Lorde has contributed to visionary writing and social justice by offering numerous examples of how to be brave, particularly as an outsider through the use of “whatever piece of power you own, no matter how small, in the service of what you believe” (De Veaux 35). Audre Lorde became a darling in the poetic field, rising from grass to grace with her works. Power and A Litany for Survival are a perfect example of the kind of woman that she is. She was a woman who definitely knew where her power belonged – within her, and she spent a great deal of time refuelling. She wrote her works in a language that is loving, accessible, and truthful and she could connect with the feelings and the progressive visions of other people. Born in 1934 in New York City, Audre Lorde attended Hunter College and acquired a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University (De Veaux 14). She wrote her first volume of poetry First Cities which turned out to be a great success and dramatically changed her life. One of her works From A Land Where Other People Live was nominated for a national book award. Looking at poems Power and A Litany for Survival, it is evident that a majority of her works are dealing with racial tensions and identity issues. Among other works she wrote was The Cancer Journals that indicated her struggles while going through cancer treatment. However, in 1992, she succumbed to breast cancer (De Veaux 15).

Literary Movements

A Litany for Survival is considered as opulent embroidery of history, poetry, politics, and music. It describes the roots of Audre in the Carribean, Greenwich Village, and Harlem and her association in movement for Women’s Liberation, Civil Rights Movements, Lesbian and Gay Liberations, and as one of the leaders in the development of Black Lesbian Feminist activism, expression and thoughts (Lorde 65). Her works also exemplify her experience with cancer and her role as an orator and a teacher. As a minority in the Black Arts Movement and the world of literature in general, Lorde set to creatively and sophisticatedly express herself through a credible and respected medium of rhetoric as a way of further representing female writers like herself who felt limited by the society’s conventions. Lorde successfully developed a strong and commanding voice in the otherwise male-dominated field of literature with her works Power and A Litany for Survival. These two works serve as a significant example of how language, a powerful tool, can be applied to challenge the narrow provisions of the conservative society (Lorde 49).

In the poem, A Litany for Survival Lorde expresses the power of speech and how language can be used to challenge the biased and limited roles given to the black women like her by an oppressive majority. With the use of ambiguity and diction, the significance of language is specifically exemplified. This poem served as a lens that delves into an in-depth description of poetry through its implied connotation and proof of how language gives power to its user (Igwedibia 4). In the entire poem, Lorde tries to address a given group of women who are fearful and not sure of their power and purpose that is continuously challenged by the customs of society. In the end line of the poem, Lorde demands her audience to have a level of commitment to challenge the conventions of the society and its impacts by proving to them that black women can also take advantage of the opportunities presented to them to productively live their lives (Igwedibia 21).

In the poem Power, Lorde expresses her feelings regarding the unjust treatment of black people. She describes the trial of the killing of the ten-year-old child Clifford Glover as the poem’s background. Audre uses her poetic prose to show her feelings of fury and anger over the incident which she describes as unfortunate. She uses the poem to send a message that the black community is being oppressed; that the society is racist-bound, allowing the death of an innocent child just go without serving justice (Lorde 34). She expresses the anger of learning that the officer who was responsible for killing Glover was acquitted. From a general perspective, the poem sends a message that every person has power. For instance, the power she possesses as a writer, the power of the system, and the powerlessness that the black community experience during oppression (Lorde 34). Even though the poem was written in the 1970s, it is still relevant in our society today because of police brutality and oppression that can still be witnessed in most parts of our society.

Throughout her life and works, Audre Lorde portrays herself as a civil rights activist and dwells on the oppression that blacks face in the society that accords minimal rights to them. She was raised in Harlem, a society that was characterized by a lot of racism cases (De Veaux 24). She uses her poetic gift to stand up against the racial injustices that the black community is subjected to and tries to make a conscience difference. Rather than just being rhetoric, Lorde wants her voice to be heard through the art of effective writing as she searches for the power she possesses as an African-American woman poet to ensure that she sends a message to the people about the social injustices.

Common Themes

In two poems, there are common themes that are evident. One of the themes is power. In the A Litany for Survival, for instance, she illustrates the power of language in her description of poetry in unconventional phrases and terms. She sends a message to the black women that they can successfully use language in the context of the Black Arts Movement and empower themselves to stand up against the limitation that the conventional society accords to them (The Norton Anthology of African American Literature 16300. In poem Power, Lorde uses her poetic gift as the power of reaching out to the people to send a message that the racial prejudice that is propelled against the black community is inhuman. She awakens the community to shun this act.

Another theme evident in the two poems is the oppression of the black community. In the A Litany for Survival, we see that black women like Lorde face discrimination because of their race and sexual orientation. The society they live in does not give them equal rights as compared to their white counterparts. This is a similar case in the Power where the blacks are subjected to oppression through extrajudicial killings. The social injustice perpetrated against the black community goes unpunished as perpetrators walk free. The societies, in both poems, are described as racial and know nothing but racism against the black community.

Formal Decision of Audre Lorde

In most of Lorde’s works, she touches on the aspects of racial prejudice and oppression that the black community is subjected to. She described the kind of society that they lived in as one that saw black women as nothing and does not afford similar rights as their white counterparts. At the same time, she expresses her anger towards how the black community is treated in society. Her formal decision was to stand up and use the power she had to send a message to the people that racism and racial oppression against the black community are unwarranted.


Power and A Litany for Survival are some of the great poems written by Audre Lorde. In these poems, she airs her voice through her poetic gift to talk about the society we live in and how it limits the rights and freedom of women. Racism and oppression against the black women and the black community are evident in both poems. Lorde spent most of her life talking and writing about the oppression against the black community. Raised in Harlem during a time when racism was paramount, she decided to stand up against these bad virtues in our society with the hope of making a difference.

Work Cited

De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior Poet: A biography of Audre Lorde. WW Norton & Company, 2004.

Igwedibia A. Audre Lorde’s Poems “A Woman Speaks” and “A Litany for Survival” towards a Gricean Theoretical Reading. Arts Social Sci J 2018, 9: 325.

Lorde, Audre. The collected poems of Audre Lorde. WW Norton & Company, 2000.

The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. 2nd Ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 1625; 1923; 1925.