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Audre Lorde’s “The Black Unicorn”

Audre Lorde’s “The Black Unicorn” addresses major themes of race, gender, sexuality, and politics. Her honest and compelling poems are often heartbreaking and speak strongly against racism and sexism in America. Much of her work incorporates African spiritual imagery and allusion which emphasize her sense of cultural and ethnic pride. However, despite the fact that her poetry deals with these larger themes, she does not abandon the personal. Many of her poems deal with failed romantic relationships as well as her interactions with her family, and more particularly with her mother.

The opening poem, which is the collection’s namesake, closes with “The black unicorn is restless / the black unicorn is unrelenting / the black unicorn is not / free.” This poem is a great beginning to the collection as it builds expectations for what the rest of the poetry will be about. The poem not only addresses race, but also confronts the fiery spirit of something uniquely beautiful which refuses to be held down despite its imprisonment – in essence, it addresses Lorde herself. It speaks against prejudice and stands for all of those who struggle against the mandates of a societal norm – women, African Americans, homosexuals – particularly as those mandates were enforced in the seventies, when Lorde wrote and published this book.

“The Black Unicorn” deals fairly prominently with Lorde’s search for identity in the midst of an oppressive environment. Her personal relationships as well as societal expectations confuse as well as push her to search for a peace of mind and a comfortable place in the world. Those of the poems which address her more personal emotions and experiences merge her relationships into the overall scope of other major issues. For instance, throughout many of the poems, she addresses or refers to her mother in a way that suggests longing and a need for direction. For example, in “From the House of Yemanjá,” Lorde says, “Mother I need / mother I need / mother I need your blackness now / as the august earth needs rain.” Here, she begs her mother to grant her some guidance in a world where she struggles to find strength in her own sense of blackness.

The final poem of the collection, “Solstice” concludes the collection as appropriately as “The Black Unicorn” opens it. Lorde writes:

May I never remember reasons

for my spirit’s safety

may I never forget

the warning of my woman’s flesh

weeping at the new moon

may I never lose

that terror

that keeps me brave

May I owe nothing

that I cannot repay.

In these final words, she brings many of the issues she has confronted throughout the poems to a poignant and self-determined resolution. She reconstructs the difficulties she has struggled against and instead seems to assert that her experiences have only made her stronger. With this as the closing poem, Lorde suggests optimism in the face of opposition and strength instead of weakness.

“The Black Unicorn” is an interesting and passionate read that I would suggest to anyone, but particularly to those who are interested in African or African American culture or in minority struggle and unification. Lorde’s address of sisterhood and feminine power is also particularly interesting (especially to my feminist-light soul) and empowering in the face of a patriarchal society.

– Chelsea