Last Updated on August 30, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 387
The speaker is presented as a pilgrim making his way to Africa, which he considers a sacred place. Indeed, he describes Africa as his "Promised Land," an allusion to the biblical story in which Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and towards the land promised to them by God. This biblical allusion suggests that the speaker, like the Israelites, is fleeing persecution elsewhere and seeking refuge in his own "Promised Land."
The speaker also says that he has "grown up" in Africa's "shadow," and he recalls the "gentleness of [Africa's] hands . . . laid over [his] eyes." From these descriptions, the reader might infer that the speaker considers Africa as a kind of mother figure—and thus himself as the returning son.
Africa is personified as a proud, beautiful "black woman." She has gentle hands, a "form which is beauty," a "solemn contralto voice," and her eyes are "neighbouring suns."
In the sixth stanza, this personified form of Africa is described in more sensual language. The speaker describes "Firm-fleshed ripe fruit," a "mouth making lyrical [his] mouth," and a "savannah shuddering beneath the East Wind's / eager caresses." Here, from the speaker's perspective, Africa seems to have changed from a maternal, sacred figure to something more like a lover.
In the seventh stanza, the speaker describes the "tom-tom" drums "muttering / under the Conqueror's fingers." The "Conqueror" is a reference to European colonizers who, by the early twentieth century, had colonized much of the African continent.
The "tom-tom" drums, symbolic of African culture, are personified as "muttering" their disapproval. The low, ongoing "muttering" of the drums could also represent (figuratively speaking) the pulse of Africa, suggesting that, while European colonizers may have conquered the land, they could never kill the culture. African culture, here represented by the "muttering" tom-toms, continues to pulse and throb, waiting for the opportunity to express itself freely and loudly once more.
In the poem's final stanza, the speaker personifies fate as "jealous" and says that fate wants to reduce Africa's beauty "to ashes." This is a device which Senghor uses to emphasize Africa's beauty—so great that even fate is envious. The speaker also says that any ashes will "feed the roots of life," implying that even fate won't be able to kill Africa's beauty, which will rise up, phoenix-like, from the ashes.