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What is the dominant theme and subject matter of the poem "Black Woman"?

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hamlet1991 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 24, 2010 at 6:02 PM via web

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What is the dominant theme and subject matter of the poem "Black Woman"?

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lit24 | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted February 25, 2010 at 1:21 PM (Answer #1)

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“Black Woman” is a short poem of eighteen lines in free verse. It is made up of three stanzas of five lines each and one stanza of three lines. Leopold Senghor uses the first person directly to directly address the  "Black Woman". He foregrounds the title by not using any determiners; by doing so he universalizes the theme of the poem.

Senghor frequently refers to his homeland in terms of a woman, a woman who is both wife and mother; she is the “promised land”.

In the first stanza he emphasizes the thematic statement that the color of the natural black woman itself is life and her form is beauty. Senghor has grown up under her shadow and his spirit has been nourished by her. Now that he has grown up and matured, he returns to her as if he were coming upon the promised land. He sees her through a mountain pass at noon in the midst of summer, and her beautiful form goes to his heart directly.

In the second stanza, she is seen as a lover, a woman whose flesh is like that of a ripened fruit. The poet compares her to the infinite savanna that shudders beneath the caresses of the east wind. She is like a tight, well-sculpted drum that resounds under the fingers of a valiant  conqueror; a woman whose resonant  contralto voice becomes the spiritual anthem of the loved one.

In the third stanza, she becomes almost a goddess, with her skin as smooth as the oiled skin of an athlete or a prince. She is like an elegant gazelle adorned with heavenly ornaments.

In the final stanza, senghor concludes philosophically that he is perpetuating her transient beauty permanently in his poetry.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted February 25, 2010 at 8:19 PM (Answer #2)

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Léopold Sédar Senghor’s poetry generally offers little difficulty as to the message it’s designed to convey, and its lyrical beauty will likely be easy to discern for most readers. The challenge in understanding this poem lies in realizing just how innovative, indeed, revolutionary it was at the time it was first written and published. This is particularly true of Senghor’s most famous poem, "Black Woman" ("Femme nue, femme noire"). Directed against an entire Western tradition of literary praise for white-skinned and light-haired women that reaches from Dante to the twentieth century, this poem celebrates the feminine beauty of black skin for its own sake. The poem is not entirely the first of its kind—it certainly had some predecessors in Baudelaire’s poetic celebration of a black prostitute and even more so in the works of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes and Jamaican writer Claude McKay.

Nevertheless, such a celebration of the black body was rare enough that the poem was considered by many to be revolutionary in its implications. As some critics have pointed out, the structure of the poem with its accumulation of metaphors owes something to the surrealist technique of poets such as André Breton and Paul Eluard and thereby connects to one of the most vibrant literary movements of Paris in the 1930s. In contrast to poems that celebrate the body of a particular beloved woman, Senghor’s is abstract, directed to a category rather than a particular person. Indeed, the poem may not be addressed to a lover alone, but also to a maternal figure, as line 3 ("I grew in your shadow") indicates. In typical Négritude fashion, it takes a European stereotype about Africans, that their partial or total nudity proves a lack of sophisticated culture, and turns it into a positive attribute: Dark skin is here praised as a vital kind of clothing in and of itself. The metaphors that follow take on a distinctly biblical tone. Not only is the woman explicitly compared to the "Promised Land," but more generally the metaphors likening her to a landscape, to exquisite food and drink, to an instrument, a graceful animal, and the sun invoke the general tone of the Song of Songs. The last stanza brings up a motif that is common in Western lyrical poetry, namely, the idea that the poets’ words preserve the beauty of a woman otherwise destined to vanish.

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mstokes | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted February 25, 2010 at 5:21 AM (Answer #3)

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I think if you could supply the poet I might be able to assist. There is no single poem I can find simply called "Black Woman". This does not mean it does not exist but I can find no trace..I wonder if you might possibly mean"Phenomenal Woman"by Maya Angelou or "once i was a black southern woman" by Is It Poetry.?

Maya Angelou said the following but it is not a poem " There is a kind of strength that is almost frightening in black women. It's as if a steel rod runs right through the head down to the feet."

I'm really sorry...I know who you are talking about now, I forgot to read the small print "leopold Senghor" I will rustle up something now for you...my humblest apologies.

Senghor, Léopold Sédar - Principal Works." Poetry Criticism. Ed. Laura Wisner-Broyles. Vol. 25. Gale Cengage, 1999. eNotes.com. 2006. 25 Feb, 2010 <http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/
senghor-leopold-sedar/principal-works>

"Senghor, Léopold Sédar - Introduction." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 130. Gale Cengage, 2000. eNotes.com. 2006. 25 Feb, 2010 <http://www.enotes.com/contemporary-literary-criticism/
senghor-leopold-sedar/introduction>

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