This piece was first published in From a Land Where Other People Live in 1973. Throughout the poem, the poet attempts to address those who identify with one group but continue to oppress another. This relates to the problems around whites-only feminism.
Explore Who Said It Was Simple
‘Who Said It Was Simple’ by Audre Lorde touches on the poet’s identity and her role within the Black and LGBTQ communities.
The poem opens with the speaker using a metaphor to compare someone sugaring under life’s complex circumstances to a tree fed by multiple roots of anger. These may become too much and break the branches, meaning the person may break under the weight of life’s inequalities and difficulties.
The poet goes on, describing a scene in a fast-food restaurant and alluding to the restrictions of feminism and the Civil Rights movement during her lifetime.
You can read the full poem here.
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
before they bear.
In the first lines of this poem, the poet’s speaker beings by noting that there are “so many roots to the tree of anger.” This suggests that anger stems from a wide variety of sources. It is fueled, as a tree is fed by its roots, from many different places. There are times when the tree, or the human being, can’t adapt to the various infuriating life circumstances it is asked to deal with. The “branches shatter / before they bear.” Sometimes, the poet is suggesting the weight is too much. It collapses the tree/human being before they’re capable of adapting to it.
Sitting in Nedicks
a waiting brother to serve them first
In the second stanza, the speaker gets specific. She refers to “Nedicks,” a fast-food chain that originated in New York City. The speaker is sitting there before the “women rally” and before “they march / discussing the problematic girls / they hire to make them free.” The speaker is referring to the way that women are treated in her contemporary world. They are hired to “make them free.” Taking a job, a woman asserts the independence of her own, but there are the restrictions of the job and the male-dominated world to be considered.
The speaker’s description of an “almost white counterman.” This brings race into the poem, as does the word “brother.” The former passes over the latter to serve the white women first. Here, the poet alludes to the still problematic treatment of Black men and women in the United States.
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
as well as sex
The white women do not “notice” or “reject” the man serving them first. This is an allusion to the troubles with all-white feminism. That is a version of feminism that focuses on white women and excludes women of color.
The poet, who is very likely the speaker in these lines, notes that she is different than these women and even the Black men around her. She is bound by “my mirror / as well as my bed.” Lorde was a Black LGBTQ+ woman who dealt with a wide range of social injustices during her lifetime.
and sit here wondering
all these liberations.
The speaker concludes the poem by suggesting that there is no way that all versions of herself will “survive / all these liberations.” The world, despite the Civil Rights and women’s rights movements, is still divided. An all-encompassing idea of freedom has yet to be put into place. The movements she sees around her reject one or more parts of her identity. She handles a great deal, like the tree in the first stanza. With this initial metaphor, she suggests that she could break.
Structure and Form
‘Who Said It Was Simple’ by Audre Lorde is a three-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains three lines, the second: twelve, and the third: three. A three-stanza line, as noted below, is often referred to as a tercet.
The poem is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, readers can find examples of rhyme throughout. For instance, “shatter,” and “anger” in the first two lines are half-rhymes.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “before” and “bear” in line three of the first stanza.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “the slighter pleasures of their slavery.”
The themes at work in this poem are identity and equality. There are equal rights movements around the speaker, but her identity is multi-faceted, and in these lines, she reveals that she doesn’t see herself belonging to any of the movements.
The purpose is to express the poet’s concern over all-white feminism and anti-LGBTQ+ civil rights activists. As an LGBTQ+ Black woman, Lorde found herself feeling excluded by all the marches happening around her.
The tone is analytical and somewhat solemn. The poet’s language suggests that she’s used to the inequalities she deals with and is well aware that no one is fighting for a version of equality that aligns with her race, sexuality, and gender.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Audre Lorde poems. For example:
- ‘A Woman Speaks’ – describes the conversations between women of different cultures and how the feminist movement might be improved.
- ‘A Litany for Survival’ – describes the lives of those who do not have the luxury to enjoy passing dreams. These people must fight for their survival everyday.
- ‘Power’ – is based on a murder and court case in which a police officer was tired for killing a young black man.
Also, be sure to explore some of the best LGBTQ poems in poetry.