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“When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it’s better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” ~Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

Atlantic Center for the Arts


Coping by Audre Lorde

It has rained for five days


the world is

a round puddle

of sunless water

where small islands

are only beginning

to cope

a young boy

in my garden

is bailing out water

from his flower patch

when I ask him why

he tells me

young seeds that have not seen sun


and drown easily.


In the shadow of Lorde’s birthday, which was on February 18, I’ve decided to talk about one of her poems. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at any of them – boy am I glad that the Park library has copies of her books – but I’m ready to get into it. By the way, if you don’t know anything about her, look her up. She had a fascinating life (a lot of poets seem to have unique lives, don’t they?) and she was a pretty outspoken, strong woman who wouldn’t take anyone’s shit. It’s people like her that makes me think I was born in the wrong decade, because I would have loved having a conversation with Lorde about the power of language, civil rights, feminism, sexuality and so forth. That would have been awesome!

Anyway, back to the poem “Coping” which I find quite difficult to decipher, but I’m going to try my best.

I believe it’s a personification of the five stages of grief, except they’re not in chronological order. For the record, the stages are denial and isolation, then anger, then bargaining, then depression and finally acceptance. Lorde begins the tale on the first stage by saying, “It has rained for five days/ running/ the world…” Normally when it rains a lot, people spend time indoors so the speaker or whomever is grieving in this situation have kept themselves away from others. The rain isn’t factual but serves as a metaphor for isolation.

Side note: Since the poem lacks punctuation until the end, the audience can more or less decide where one ‘sentence’ ends and where the next one begins; it largely depends on where you pause.

The next stage is depression – “a round puddle/ of sunless water” – and just as the person in question begins to move on to acceptance – “where small islands/ are only beginning/ to cope…” – they are dragged back to anger and bargaining. The anger may be subtle since it shows through the action of the young boy, but imagine how it looks to anyone who has accepted their grief and their loss when someone else is trying to deny the rain and frantically tries to empty his flower patch. It’s a pathetic and hopeless state considering that the rain won’t end and how difficult it might actually be to drain the ground. This action and the fact that Lorde uses the urging word ‘bail’ hint to the anger, which also ties back to denial.

Then the speaker touches upon bargaining: “… he tells me/ young seeds that have not seen sun/ forget/ and drown easily.” Now this has a double-meaning, I think, because bailing out the water isn’t only for himself, but it’s for people he cares about. He is attempting to soften the blow and protect other young folks who may be overwhelmed by this loss. Bargaining is one of the roughest stages of grief, if you ask me, because you flip-flop from self-blame to distraction to asking ‘what-if’ or ‘how’ to whatever else can possibly hold off the pain that the depression will bring.

Cleverly enough, these lines additionally hint that if one never finds acceptance of their loss, the rain will never stop, thus destroying a person within. Depression does have the tendency to really make a person forget who they are and what they live for. So you can say that the message is that if you don’t go through the stages of grief, it will drown you before you get a chance to live your life to the fullest.


So what do you think about “Coping”? Am I alone in this analysis? Please let me know your thoughts on this poem in the comments.