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My Mother By: Grace Nichols Poetic Elements Analysis Theme References Continuation Imagery Continuation Rhyme Scheme & structure Poem Poem Type Grace Nichols About the Poem/Poet You were
water to me
deep and bold and fathoming
moon’s eye to me
pull and grained and mantling
sunrise to me
rise and warm and streaming
the fishes red gill to me
the flame tree’s spread to me
the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell
Go to your wide futures, you said Born and educated in Georgetown, Guyana, Grace Nichols worked as a newspaper journalist and as a freelance writer and started writing poetry and prose while still in Guyana. In 1977 Nichols moved to England, where she has continued writing and performing poetry.
I Is a Long Memoried Woman, her first collection of poems for adults, was published in 1983 and received the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry. The collection is a lyrical history book of the unknown black woman who has survived the Middle Passage on the slave ships. The 47 pieces focus on oppression between the races and the sexes, but much more on revolution and the survival strategies that women draw on, driven by the hope for freedom and depending on the spiritual support of African gods and goddesses, such as Ala, Ogun, or Yemanji. The volume ends on what have become Nichols's most celebrated lines: "I have crossed an ocean / I have lost my tongue / from the root of the old one / a new one has sprung" ("Epilogue").
Subsequent collections by Nichols include The Fat Black Woman's Poems (1984), Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman (1989), Sunris, a collection (1996), Everybody's Got a Gift: New and Selected Poems (2005), The Fat Black Woman's Poems (2006), Picasso, I Want My Face Back (2010), and I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems (2011). Praise songs are laudatory epithets that capture the essence of the object which is being praised, these praise songs are traditional and native to West Africa and the Caribbean. Nichols grew up in Guyana, which is near the Caribbean, and hence her poem refers to her own upbringing. Simple ABC rhyme scheme, with the last line on its own- this draws attention and significance to the last line, like a final thought that the the poet wishes to leave with the readers.
Also, the shape of each stanza 'grows', with each line longer than the last- this could be representative of the effect which Nichols' mother had on the poet, enabling her growth and development.
The rhyming words (present participles) at the end of each last line of each stanza ("fathoming", "mantling", "streaming", "replenishing") illustrates the life, presence and energy to be found in the persona's mother, that the persona's mother was constantly in motion through empowering others around her. "You were /water to me"
"You were /moon's eye to me"
Initial images are quite 'cool' and are considered traditionally 'feminine' symbols of life- water is associated with cleansing, washing, healing and life-bringing, while the moon with spiritual empowerment and femininity. Therefore, all these qualities are attributed to Nichol's mother through the being compared to these symbols metaphorically. Furthermore, water and the moon are closely linked due to the effect the moon has on the tides- this could be symbolic of how the persona's mother was the catalyst for her growth ("pull").
"deep and bold and fathoming"
"pull and grain and mantling"
Despite these initial metaphors of water and the moon being 'feminine', the adjectives ascribed to these metaphors are more movement-orientated, and therefore may be considered more 'masculine'. This perhaps could allude to how the persona's mother fulfilled both a motherly and a fatherly role in her upbringing.
Fathoms are used to measure the depth of water, and "fathoming" means to understand something- though using the word 'fathoming', Nichols is describing her subject as having an intricate and complex (hence deep) personality. Also, in the way that fathoms are a measure of depth, Nichols could be alluding to how her mother had acted like a 'measure' for Nichols' own personality and person- someone that the persona can compare, aspire and liken herself to.
"You were sunrise to be"
"fishes red gill"
"flame tree's spread"
"crab's leg /the fried plantain smell"
In the second half of the poem, the subject is portrayed in a more 'masculine' manner than in the first half. The color red, a more masculine color, is dominant in these two stanzas, with the sunrise, the fish's gill and the flame tree being red. However, the color red in this poem is symbolic of maternal love, and not of sensuality as is traditional in other European poetry.
Despite the masculine metaphors in the last two stanzas, feminine characteristics are evident- that of sustenance, shelter, warmth, and the cycle of days all in line with the main concept of motherhood.
The fish's gills could be representative of the very act of breathing, illustrating that the persona feels that the presence of her mother was as essential as the air was. Also, the references to food show a deep-rooted fondness and connection with her mother through their culture, with food being central to the various Caribbean cultures.
Overall, the heavy use of nature imagery as metaphors to describe the persona's mother indicates that the subject has great strength and also great variations and beauty in her personality. "Go to your wide futures, you said."
The very last line of the poem, which stands by itself, is significant as the readers finally 'hear' words from the subject herself, not just from the persona. Here the subject is releases the persona to "go" to her "futures"- this indicates a coming-of-age of the persona where the persona no longer requires the shelter, sustenance of support of her mother. The use of "your" shows that the subject is speaking to more then one person- referencing to the persona's siblings, and showing that the subject was influential was the lives of many. Also, the use of "futures" is interesting it can have the meaning of the persona having more than one future and one purpose- just like the persona's mother, the persona may become many things to her own children, as was demonstrated by the subject in the poem. The poet's use of images and poetic techniques reveal and develop the theme of the poem. Through the use of nature imagery, the poet is able to portray her love for her mother. Natural images such as ‘water’, ‘moon’s eye’, ‘sunrise’ and ‘tree’ are used to express the idea of a natural bond between mother and daughter. Angeline, L. (2012, November 13). Praise song for my
mother by grace nichols: analysis and commentary. Retrieved from http://asliterature.blogspot.com/2012/11/praisesongformymother.html
Watson R. (2009). "Nichols, Grace." The Facts On File
Companion to British Poetry, 1900 to Present. NewYork: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. (Updated 2011.) Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File,Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin=CBPNP297&SingleRecord=True.