The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Black Woman” is a short poem in free verse, with eighteen lines divided into three stanzas of five lines each and one stanza of three lines. It is written in the first person and is addressed directly to the woman of the title, the black woman who gives the poem its theme.

This was one of many poems written when Léopold Senghor was living abroad, away from his own country of Senegal. During this period, he was a student in Paris and wrote about his childhood, which he viewed as a kind of paradise. These poems abound in his memories of Africa—an Africa seen in his mind’s eye—and are an imagined return to an idealized Africa.

Having experienced a feeling of estrangement amid Western society, he set out on a poetic quest for his homeland. He looked back to the time of his childhood and to the place where he was reared. The main themes in his first collection of poetry are a longing for his homeland, a nostalgia for his childhood, and especially an affirmation of his African heritage. “Black Woman” is one of the best-known poems from this collection. When Senghor writes of Africa, it is frequently in terms of a woman, a woman who is both wife and mother; she is the “promised land” mentioned in the poem.

The first stanza gives the theme of the poem: the natural black woman whose color is life and whose form is beauty. The poet has grown up in her shadow and has felt the gentleness of her hands. Now that he is grown,...

(The entire section is 542 words.)