Movement Song by Audre Lorde explores the process of breaking up and moving on from a lost love. Lorde presents the end of a relationship, the subsequent events spiralling out from that fateful moment. The poet draws upon heartbreak, but also promise, seeing that both of them begin new journeys from their parting.
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Summary of Movement Song
Lorde draws upon the semantics of movement to depict how the couple was not right for each other, journeying in different directions. The first stanza explores the moment of splitting, both leaving from the other. After this, Lorde moves the poem in the direction of exploring what comes after the breakup. The second stanza looks at how they will remember each other and the events that followed the breakup. The ending of the poem is reflective, Lorde concluding that you cannot waste your time when you know a relationship isn’t right.
You can read the full poem here.
Form and Structure
Audre Lorde splits Movement Song into two stanzas. The two stanzas measure different lengths, the first having 10 lines and the second 29. The two stanza structure could be understood as a representation of the couple. They have now separated, Lorde using the division between the stanzas as emblematic of their own breakup. This mirrors the content of the poem, the break up happening in the first stanza while the aftermath occurs in the second.
Moreover, the different lengths of the stanzas could represent the duration of these periods in their life. Their relationship, measuring 10 lines, may seem short-lived compared to the longer period of melancholy that follows. Lorde focuses more on the process of understanding and responding to the breakup, that occupying the larger stanza.
Themes in Movement Song
The central theme that Lorde discusses in Movement Song is heartbreak. Lorde discusses ‘moving away’ from a relationship, drifting from the comfort it once provided. This melancholic feeling stems from the end of their relationship. Lorde addresses those feelings of heartbreak, showing how to overcome them with time.
Another theme that Lorde touches upon is memory. Lorde wants her ex-lover to remember her in a certain light. This focus on memory is now all that is left of their relationship. Although they will never relive those moments, they can use memory to participate in the past. For Lorde, that has to be enough.
Lorde employs enjambment across much of Movement Song. In doing this, the meter of the poem quickens, flowing quickly along from one line to the next. Enjambment could reflect how quickly their relationship has passed by, the quick meter being emblematic of the passing time. It could also be understood as a representation of the inability to hold on to their relationship. Their relationship slips through their fingers, time-consuming, and forcing them apart, reflected in the continual use of enjambment.
Another device that Lorde employs across Movement Song is the semantics of movement. Across many instances of description, ‘moving’, ‘twitching’, ‘journeys/away’, Lorde references the idea of movement. There is a constant underlying sense that the two people are drifting away from each other. This is illustrated by these semantics, Lorde mirroring her ending relationship.
Movement Song Analysis
I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck(…)without goodbyes.
The poem begins by focusing on the personal pronoun ‘I’. This instantly focuses the poem inward, Lorde will be discussing her own emotions. The fact the poet decides to begin Movement Song in this way signals the oncoming independence. Although this is a relationship poem, it is more so about the breakup, Lorde, therefore, focusing on herself. This is further illustrated by the placement of ‘your’ at the end of this line. ‘I’ and ‘your’ are syntactically separated, the line structure reflecting the reality of their situation.
The focus on ‘your neck’ is intimate and personal. Lorde clearly knows this person very well, having ‘studied’ their ‘tight curls’. Indeed, the reference to ‘evening’ and ‘mornings’, in plural, signal that they have spent a lot of time together. Yet, the use of enjambement subtly separates ‘your neck’ and ‘moving away’. Although once Lorde could see her partner up close, they are now walking ‘away’. This sense of movement continues through the whole poem, Lorde watching as they leave. The syntax is used again, placing ‘me’ at the end of the second line, spatially isolating the personal pronoun.
They part from one another, both ‘dashing for elevators going/in opposite directions’. The sense of movement is against described in opposites. While one ‘moves’ it is always ‘away’ from the other. The elevators go in ‘opposite directions’, both moving further away from the other.
The final line is the shortest of the first stanza, measuring only two lines. This, combined with the presence of the first end stop, gives the line direct finality. There is a tone of mourning, this moment emphasized by the harsh end stop. Their ending is abrupt, neither one saying ‘goodbye’.
Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof(…)only ourselves.
Lorde discusses how she wants to be remembered by her lover. She does not want to be ‘a bridge nor a roof’, perhaps pulling away from symbols of security. This foreshadows the end of the poem, ‘we cannot waste time’ displaying that the couple was not right for each other. Lorde does not want her partner to look back and think their relationship was too safe and rigid. Perhaps a direct rejection of this comes through the freeform structure, flowing across the poem to create a sense of freedom.
Although spatially moving away from each other, Lorde also introduces a temporal quality. She sees her love ‘moving away from me into tomorrows’, the promise of a new day being melancholic. Although they are no longer together, the life of both goes on. Lorde examines this idea, watching and knowing that their lives will continue. The repetition of ‘wish and ripen’ from the first stanza display how the lover has moved on with their life. They can do the same tasks without Lorde, both becoming independent. Time has run out, ‘the sands have run out against us’, both knowing they will never go back.
Yet, Lorde explores the process of getting over someone. She acknowledges the ‘reward’ that a breakup can give. Both have new experiences, new ‘journeys’ as they move ‘away from each other’. The experience things again, ‘desire’, ‘mornings alone’, things that remind her that she is happy to be alone.
Above all, she does not want to be remembered ‘as disaster’. Although they did not end up together, they understand that it was simply not meant to be. One cannot ‘waste time’ with someone who isn’t right for them. In doing that, you ‘waste…only ourselves’ – it is okay to waste your own life, but don’t waste somebody else’s. The two-line final stanza structure returns, Lorde finishing on a deeply melancholic, but reflect, note.
A similar sense of movement after a breakup is explored in Owen Sheers’ Night Windows. Both Lorde and Sheers experience a breakup and write about the moments afterward. Although in different settings, both write a deeply melancholic poem about moving forward.
Although contextually slightly different, Carol Ann Duffy writes Death and the Moon as an ode to a former lover. After her ex-boyfriend’s passing, Duffy wrote this poem to try to mourn for him. Both Lorde and Duffy use the semantics of distance to illustrate loss.