Introduction & Overview of What My Child Learns of the Sea by Audre Lorde

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What My Child Learns of the Sea Summary & Study Guide Description

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When Audre Lorde wrote "What My Child Learns of the Sea" in her daughter Elizabeth's first year of life, she was struggling to come to terms with her identity. The year of the poem's creation, 1963, found Lorde in her first and only marriage, a young mother, writing poetry while also working as a librarian. The United States at the time was in the throes of an energetic and contested civil rights reform movement during the final year of President John F. Kennedy's administration, just before its violent end. Set within the context of the times, "What My Child Learns of the Sea" reflects the anxiety and upheaval in Lorde's personal life. In this poem, Lorde explores the responsibility, legacy, and limitations she felt as a mother and daughter. Avoiding specific allusions to historical events, Lorde focused her imagery on the primal cycles of nature. The language of seasons, including manifestations of growth and decay, give the poem a resilience that transcends the time and place of its creation and ensures its continued relevance and thoughtfulness as an exploration of motherdaughter and parent-child relationships.

"What My Child Learns of the Sea" was published in 1968 as part of The First Cities, Lorde's first book. By that year, her daughter Elizabeth was five and Lorde herself turned thirty-four. With its publication in book form, "What My Child Learns of the Sea" reached a wider audience and became part of the turbulent and vibrant cultural and political scene. Between 1963 and 1968, the civil rights movement expanded from a mostly race-oriented effort into a broader societal upheaval that included an outcry for feminist and gay and lesbian rights and for dramatic changes in the status quo, aiming particularly for wider acceptance of diversity in American society. "What My Child Learns of the Sea" can be found in Audre Lorde's 1992 collection Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New (Revised) and anthologized in The Garden Thrives: Twentieth- Century African-American Poetry (1996).

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Poetry for Students
What My Child Learns of the Sea from Poetry for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.