Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The meaning of this poem revolves around Senghor’s contemplation, description, and glorification of the natural black woman. Woman holds a place of importance in Senghor’s life and in his poetry. When he writes of Africa in his poetry, it is frequently in terms of a woman. His glorification of the black woman is quite different from that of Western poetry, which had so often glorified women of Western society. The black woman of this poem is more than an individual person; she is also the progenitor of his race, and thus symbolic of Africa itself and an embodiment of Senghor’s African heritage. Senghor takes pride in his race, and here especially, he shows his love and respect for the black woman. He uses her very color as part of his praise and seems to abstract her characteristics into an idea of a black woman in order to praise her.

This deservedly famous and often-quoted poem was written when he was away from his homeland. The nostalgia that one finds in the other poems of his collection Chants d’ombre is reflected in this poetic return to an Africa that was almost unspoiled by the ways of the Western world and that was, for him, a sort of paradise where all seemed to be in harmony and at peace, where he felt secure in his place in the world. In this Africa of his childhood, there was a sense of a life spent in common with his family, his village, his clan, his tribe, and even his ancestors.

In this poem, he sees, in his...

(The entire section is 478 words.)