Black Woman Summary

Black Woman” is a poem first published in 1945 and written by Léopold Senghor. The poem is written from the first-person perspective and in free verse, meaning that it has no set rhyme scheme.

  • In the poem, Senghor personifies Africa as a beautiful woman, who is sometimes a maternal figure and sometimes a lover.
  • In the final stanza of the poem, the destruction of Africa’s beauty is foreshadowed, and the speaker imagines that “jealous fate” will turn the beauty “to ashes.”

Summary

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Last Updated on August 30, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 786

"Black Woman" is a poem first published in 1945 and written by Léopold Senghor. Senghor was a leading figure of the Negritude movement, which originated in France and set out to celebrate African identity and culture. In the poem, Senghor personifies Africa as a beautiful woman, who is sometimes a maternal figure and sometimes a lover. The poem is written from the first-person perspective and in free verse—meaning that it has no set rhyme scheme.

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The first stanza comprises just a single line, "Naked woman, black woman," and this line (or a slight variant of it) is repeated three times throughout the poem. The woman, a personification of Africa, is beautiful in her blackness, and the fact that she stands "Naked" suggests that she is proud of her beauty.

In the second stanza, the blackness of Africa is said to be "life," and the "form" of Africa is "beauty." The point is that Africa's beauty is synonymous with its blackness. This is a point which is repeated for emphasis throughout the poem.

In the third stanza, the speaker describes how he has "grown up" in the "shadow" of Africa, and he remembers her gentle hands "laid over (his) eyes." Africa here is presented as a maternal figure to the speaker. The speaker in turn is positioned as the son.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes what seems like the end of a journey he has made to Africa. He stands "high up on the sun-baked pass, at the heart of summer, at the heart of noon," and before him he sees his "Promised Land," meaning Africa. Seeing Africa close up, he is struck by its beauty.

The fifth stanza, which is just the single line, "Naked woman, dark woman," is a variation of the poem's opening line. The repetition emphasizes the two key characteristics of Africa: her nakedness and her darkness.

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In the sixth stanza, the speaker describes Africa much as one might describe a lover. He describes her "mouth making lyrical [his] mouth," suggesting two lovers kissing, and he describes the African savannah as "shuddering beneath the East Wind's / eager caresses." The words "shuddering" and "caresses" here are sexually charged. Here, Senghor suggests that African culture, symbolized by the "tom-tom" drums, has endured.

In the seventh stanza, the focus shifts to the "Conqueror's fingers." The reference here is to the European colonizers who colonized much of Africa in the nineteenth century. Specifically, Senghor is likely referencing French colonialism, given that he was born in Senegal, which was colonized by the French. Senghor also studied and lived in France for many years.

The musical theme continues into the eighth stanza, where Africa's voice is described as a "solemn contralto" and "the spiritual song of the Beloved." Presumably, Africa's song is solemn because of the European colonizers, but even through this oppression, Africa's maternal instincts endure, and she sings for her "Beloved" Africans who have been oppressed or uprooted.

Following these references to European colonization, we again have in the ninth stanza a variation of the line which began the poem: "Naked woman, dark woman." The repetition of this line at this point in the poem implies that Africa will endure through and beyond even the toughest of times.

In the tenth stanza, the speaker again returns to the beauty of Africa, encapsulated in the final words of the stanza, "pearls are stars on the / night of your skin." Africa here is presented as a beautiful woman adorned with precious and beautiful "pearls." The fact that the pearls are described metaphorically as "stars" suggests that Africa's beauty is heavenly, enduring, and vast.

Africa's beauty is further described in stanza eleven, with "the glinting of red / gold against your skin." The color imagery here—of "red" and "gold" respectively—connotes heat, passion, elegance, and wealth.

In stanza twelve, the speaker describes how he is impacted by Africa's beauty. He says that his cares are "lightened by the neighbouring suns of your eyes." The imagery of the suns here connotes the intensity and vitality of Africa's beauty.

In the thirteenth and penultimate stanza, the speaker declares that he shall continue to sing of and celebrate Africa's beauty and, ominously, fears that her beauty may one day pass. However, he hopes that, through his singing, he can make Africa's beauty "Eternal."

In the final stanza of the poem, the destruction of Africa's beauty is foreshadowed, and the speaker imagines that "jealous fate" will turn the beauty "to ashes." Perhaps the speaker, in the concluding stanzas of the poem, worries about the death of Africa's beauty because he fears it is too intense and too precious not to be ravaged and exploited once more by the aforementioned "Conqueror's fingers."

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