By Layli Long Soldier


Welcome to a journey through “Space,” a poignant poem by Layli Long Soldier, a poet renowned for her layered and incisive explorations of themes related to identity, history, and belonging. 🌌✍️

Layli Long Soldier, an Oglala Lakota poet, activist, and writer, uses her distinctive voice to bridge the personal with the political. Her works often reflect on her heritage and the broader social issues that affect indigenous peoples. “Space” is part of her acclaimed collection titled “WHEREAS,” which responds to the U.S. government’s official apologies to Native Americans. The poem itself, like much of her work, is experimental in form, challenging traditional structures to convey deeper meanings and provoke thought.

The genre of this poem blends the lyrical with narrative, creating a space where personal reflection and broader societal commentary coexist. This fusion not only engages readers but also invites them to reflect on their perceptions of space, both literal and metaphorical.

Meaning of Space

Opening section
“Space” begins with a contemplation of the physical and metaphorical implications of space within language and relationships. Long Soldier reflects on the gaps and silences that define and sometimes complicate communication. For example, she writes:

“I remember the gaps the space / between your body and mine.”

This opening sets the tone for a meditation on separation and the distances we navigate in both personal and communal contexts.

Mid section
In the middle of the poem, Long Soldier explores the concept of space as it relates to historical and cultural contexts. She weaves imagery of landscapes and territories, which are potent symbols for Native American history and identity. The verse:

“The spaces stretching between lands, / familiar and foreign.”

Here, the poet is not only addressing physical distances but also the emotional and historical separations imposed by external forces.

Concluding section
The poem concludes with a reflection on the potential for reconciliation and understanding through the acknowledgment of space. Long Soldier suggests that recognizing and respecting these spaces can lead to healing and growth. She notes:

“To acknowledge space, is to consider / our part in its creation.”

The conclusion offers a hopeful perspective on the power of awareness and acceptance in overcoming divisions.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza 1
*The poem opens with a focus on physical proximity and emotional distance, illustrating the complexity of relationships.
Stanza 2
*In this section, Long Soldier uses vivid descriptions of landscapes as metaphors for historical injustices and cultural disconnection.
Stanza 3
*The concluding stanza ties the poem’s themes together, suggesting a path forward through mutual recognition of the spaces we share and create.

Each stanza employs specific literary techniques:

  • Syntax and Diction: Long Soldier’s choice of sparse, precise language mirrors the thematic emphasis on space and separation.
  • Figurative Language: Metaphors of physical landscapes represent broader social and historical issues, enriching the text’s layers of meaning.

Poetic Devices used in Space

Device NameExample from the PoemFunction in the Poem
Metaphor“spaces stretching between lands”Compares the literal and metaphorical distances to emphasize the historical and personal separations experienced.
Simile“like whispers between bodies”Suggests the intimacy and subtlety of space in communication, highlighting its quiet power.
Alliteration“silent spaces speak”Draws attention to the paradox of silence communicating messages, adding a lyrical quality that emphasizes the poem’s tone.
Assonance“the echo of each orbicular stone”Creates a musicality that mirrors the echoing nature of history and memory across spaces.
EnjambmentUsed across several stanzasEncourages the reader to move quickly from one line to the next, mirroring the flow of thoughts and the continuity of space.
Imagery“the red dust under our feet”Evokes visual and tactile sensations that ground the poem’s themes in physical reality.
Personification“The landscape listens,”Imbues the landscape with the ability to observe and react, enhancing the theme of interaction between human and environment.
SymbolismLandscapes as symbolsRepresents broader cultural and historical narratives, tying personal experiences to collective memory.
IronyUse of ‘space’ to imply both connection and disconnectionHighlights the complex dual nature of ‘space’ in relationships and society.
RepetitionRecurrent mention of “space”Emphasizes the central theme and its significance throughout the poem.

Space – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “Space” by Layli Long Soldier?
A: The main theme revolves around the concept of space as both a physical and metaphorical entity, exploring how it shapes relationships, history, and identity.

Q: How does Layli Long Soldier use form in her poem “Space”?
A: Long Soldier uses a free verse structure with varying line breaks and stanza forms to emphasize the thematic focus on space and separation.

Q: Can “Space” be considered a postcolonial text?
A: Yes, the poem can be interpreted as postcolonial as it addresses themes of cultural displacement, historical memory, and indigenous identity within the context of American history.

Q: How does Layli Long Soldier’s background influence the themes in “Space”?
A: Layli Long Soldier’s Oglala Lakota heritage deeply influences her exploration of space, particularly in the context of historical displacement and cultural identity. Her work often reflects on these themes, seeking to reclaim and articulate spaces of indigenous presence and voice.

Q: What literary movements or influences can be detected in “Space”?
A: “Space” reflects elements of Postmodernism and Native American literature, characterized by its questioning of traditional narratives and its emphasis on fragmentation and recovery. The poem’s structure and thematic exploration of space also show influences from contemporary experimental poetry.

Q: Are there specific historical events referenced in “Space”?
A: While “Space” does not directly reference specific historical events, it alludes to the broader history of Native American displacement and cultural erosion. The poem uses space metaphorically to discuss these issues in a way that resonates with historical events like land seizures and forced relocations.

Space Study Guide

Exercise: Review the provided verse from “Space” and identify the poetic devices used:

“In the quiet, spaces matter just as much as the words we speak.”


  • List each poetic device found in the verse.
  • Think about why Layli Long Soldier might use these devices to enhance the poem’s themes.


  • Imagery: “In the quiet,” conjures a sensory understanding of silence.
  • Contrast: Comparing “spaces” and “words” highlights how non-verbal elements are as significant as verbal ones in communication.
  • Metaphor: Spaces are treated as entities that have weight and significance, akin to spoken words, suggesting their potent role in communication and understanding.

This exercise encourages students to explore how poetic devices are not just stylistic choices but serve deeper thematic purposes, enhancing their appreciation of poetry’s complexities.