I'm studying the poem "Praise Song for My Mother" and I am finding it difficult to grasp the content and language. Can you give me some help?What is the meaning of this poem? Has her mother died?  

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The poem "Praise Song For My Mother" was written by Grace Nichols. It is basically a tribute poem in which Nichols honors her mother. The meaning of the poem is embedded within the many metaphors woven into the text by Nichols. Nichols is comparing her mother to many different things so as to show the necessity of having her mother in her life.

Nichols first compares her mother to water. This comparison describes her mother as one of the necessiteis one must have to live: water. The water is also described as "deep", "bold", and "fathoming". Deep and fathoming are simply the same thing. The use of deep is simplistic, whereas the use of fathoming compounds the description. Bold is a characteristic which Nichols finds important in ones character. Water is bold; it can go anywhere without "thinking".

Nichols then compares her mother to the "moon's eye".  Here, one can interpret this as all-knowing. The moon looks down on us, a lightens even the darkest nights. The descriptives used in this stanza are "pull", "grained", and "mantling". Pull refers to the gravitational pull that the moon has in regard to the oceans (another reference to the water in stanza one).  This could be compared to the pull that the mother-daughter relationship has on Nichols. "Grained" refers to a rough surface. Perhaps, Nichols sees her mother as having a rough exterior (similar to the moon) because of hardships she had faced throughout her life. "Mantling" refers to something cloaked or covers. This word can have two meanings in regard to the moon and Nichols mother. First, the moon covers the earth with light (again, references the moons ability to brighten even the darkest night). Second, the comparison could link the coverage of the light of the moon to the cover that Nichols' mother provides her with.

Nichols then compares her mother to the sun. This, again, speaks to something that many humans cannot live without- the warmth and light needed to survive in a sometimes cold and dark world. The three descriptives used in this stanza are "rise", "warm", and "streaming". The sun rises; perhaps much like her mother rises to challenges. The sun provides warmth; again, something that Nichols looks for from her mother-warmth. Lastly, the sun is streaming; This references both the first stanza (water) and the second (the moon); both stream like the light of the sun. This should be referencing the constant "action" of the sun which streams light over earth at all times.

The next stanza compares Nichols mother to the gills of a red fish.  This is rather simple: fish need their gills to breathe; therefore, her mother provides her the breath she needs to survive. (This mirrors the basic need of water in the first stanza).

"The flame tree's spread to me" refers to either the changing of the leaves during the fall or a tree indigenous to her area. Change is important in life. We must face change- Nichols' mother helps her face change. Items that are indigenous are important because it shows ability to survive time.

"The crab's leg/the fried plantain smell" refers to (perhaps) two staples of her diet growing up. Nichols was born in Guyana. A Caribbean area, Guyana's staples in food were typically sea-foods and fruits indigenous to the area. "Replenishing" is used to compare her mother to what food does for one: it replenishes. The repetition simply accentuates it.

 

 

 

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