How does the background of the author affect the poem "Black Woman"?

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Léopold Sédar Senghor was born in 1906 in Senegal. The poem “Black Woman” is very much inspired by Senghor’s experiences during his own life.

Having finished his education in Africa, Senghor then went on to study in France. Through his exposure to other fellow intellectuals, Senghor and his colleagues coined the term négritude, an attempt to focus on the positive aspects of being black. Being black was at the time mainly associated with negative aspects, which were mostly linked to racism and discrimination. The movement of négritude, on the other hand, was an attempt to highlight Africa’s beauty, by emphasising African values and characteristics.

The poem “Black Woman” is very much inspired by the négritude philosophy. In the poem, which Senghor wrote during his time in France, Senghor is using the personification of Africa as a “Black Woman” to reminisce about his past life in Africa. Living in France, far away from home, made Senghor miss his home country and he felt very sentimental about it. Whilst on the surface the poem could simply be interpreted as a poem dedicated to an African woman, a closer look soon reveals that this “Black Woman” is not just meant to be an African woman, but it should also be interpreted as a metaphor for Africa itself. The poet makes this clear when using the term “Promised Land” or when referring to African landscapes such as “Savannah stretching to clear horizons” in the poem. From this point of view, the lines “In your shadow I have grown up; the gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes” can be taken as an indication of Senghor’s homesickness: he misses the country, the “shadow (in which he has) grown up.” He craves the feeling of security that living in his familiar homeland had given him, the “gentleness of your hands” as the poet calls it.

Throughout his poem, the poet makes it clear that the clear goal of this poem is to celebrate the beauty of the “Black Woman”, and therefore the beauty of Africa and its heritage. However, his goal is not only to celebrate Africa’s beauty, but also to preserve it for eternity. This is becomes clear in the line “I sing your beauty that passes, the form that I fix in the Eternal," another indication that this poem has been heavily influenced by Senghor's involvement in the négritude movement.

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