How can I analyze the poem 'Black Woman'?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the best approach to your analysis of Leopold Senghor's poem "Black Woman" is to center your discussion on the theme of Negritude, the development of African culture by expressing the powerful black presence. This theme is state in the first stanza as the natural black woman around whom Senghor has grown up; her color is life and her form is beauty. As a student in Paris, Senghor wrote this poem to celebrate, not just the beauty of the black woman, but also the woman as a figure of speech for his continent and country.

His poetic quest, which was originally written in the lyrical French, is replete with personification, and simile and metaphor, and imagery. For instance, in the first stanza Senghor writes that her beauty strikes his heart "like the lightening of the eagle."  In the second stanza, the woman is perceived as a lover,

Ripe fruit, with firm flesh, dark raptures of black wine.

Mouth that gives music to my mouth

Her flesh is personified and compared metaphorically to a song:

Of the East Wind, sculptured tom-tom,stretch drumskin

Moaning under the hands of the conqueror

Your deep contralto voice is the song of the Beloved

The poet associates the "black woman" with eternity by using images of the wind, sun, noon, night, stars.  For instance, pearls become stars on the darkness of her skin.  This use of natural imagery ties her to nature and his homeland.

While the first stanza presents "Femme Noire"/"Black Woman" as mother, and the second as love, the final stanza depicts her as a nourisher.  The poet tells her he celebrates her beauty before she becomes ashes:

Nude woman, black woman,

I sing your passing beauty, fixing your form in eternity,

Before a jealous fate turns you to ashes to feed the roots of life.

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