What is the plot of "Prayer to Masks"?

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jjohnson112 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Prayer to Masks" is a poem by Leopold Sedhar Senghor.  Senghor is from Sengal, Africa and was his country's president for 20 years.  

Senghor begins by addressing black, red, and white masks of his ancestors.  They are rectangular and appear to be made of paper.  He addresses them with reverence and silence, reminding the masks of their power to guard, to purify, and to create.  

In line 12 of the poem there is a shift from a reverent and quiet address to a powerful request.  The author demands the masks to listen and notice that things in Africa are changing.  The author reminds the masks of the history of Africa and calls for help in the rebirth of the nation.

Senghor calls upon the power of the masks and asks them to teach rhythm to the world, to bring back cries of joy and memories of life. 

The poem ends with Senghor reminding the masks of the attitude of the world toward the Sengalese: 

They call us cotton heads, and coffee men, and oily men.
They call us men of death. 

The last two lines are a strong reminder that the men of Sengal become powerful when they return to their roots, when they dance and beat the earth with their feet.  

But we are the men of the dance whose feet only gain 
power when they beat the hard soil.