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"Visit To A City Out Of Time"


The poem "St. Louis A City Out of Time" (variant of "Visit To A City Out Of Time") by Audre Lorde presents a complex portrait of a city that is both marked by the natural forces around it and influenced by the lives of its inhabitants. This poem speaks to themes of time, change, and the relationship between humans and their environment. Lorde masterfully blends these themes through a sparse yet poignant use of language and imagery.

The opening lines establish the relationship between the city and the river, suggesting that "if a city takes its rhythms from the river that cuts through it, the pulse of the Mississippi has torn this city apart." This presents a tension right from the start. While rivers often symbolize life and renewal, in this case, the Mississippi seems to be a destructive force that has "torn" the city. This dissonance is heightened by the mention of the city's "pulse," a word commonly used to denote life and vibrancy. The pulse here, however, seems to have wreaked havoc rather than enriching life.

Following this unsettling beginning, the poem declares that "St. Louis is somebody's home and not answering." The notion of "not answering" is fascinating in its ambiguity. It could imply a sense of neglect or perhaps a certain resignation-no one shovels snow "because spring will come someday." This line captures a form of weary optimism or perhaps an abandonment of agency, as though the city and its people are leaving themselves to the whims of nature, represented by the coming spring.

The closing lines offer a paradox that encapsulates the entire poem: "People who live by rivers dream they are immortal." Normally, rivers signify life, continuity, and renewal. Yet, in the context of this poem, there is a tragic irony to this statement. Given that the river has "torn" the city apart, this sense of immortality seems illusory or perhaps even a form of denial in the face of evident decay or disruption.

Lorde thus constructs a complicated emotional and thematic landscape that mirrors the complex nature of St. Louis itself, as seen through her eyes. The river, often a source of life, appears here as a destabilizing force. The inhabitants seem caught in a liminal space between the harsh reality and a dream of immortality, perhaps afforded by their proximity to the river. The city is simultaneously "somebody's home" yet marked by a kind of existential neglect or resignation.

In essence, "St. Louis A City Out of Time" serves as an evocative meditation on the impermanence and contradictions that characterize human existence, even as it is framed within the geography and temporality of a specific place. The poem grapples with the tension between the transformative power of nature and the complex, sometimes tenuous, ways that human communities adapt or fail to adapt to their environments. Lorde's eloquent examination reveals that while cities and their rivers may shape each other, their interaction is often fraught with complexities that go beyond simplistic ideas of harmony or discord.


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