Themes

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

The Beauty of Blackness

Clothed with your colour which is life,with your form which is beauty!

Throughout the poem, Senghor elevates physical beauty to spiritual heights and explores the beauty of the titular black woman from many different (though equally celebratory) perspectives. He reflects on how he grew up...

(The entire section contains 812 words.)

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The Beauty of Blackness

Clothed with your colour which is life,
with your form which is beauty!

Throughout the poem, Senghor elevates physical beauty to spiritual heights and explores the beauty of the titular black woman from many different (though equally celebratory) perspectives. He reflects on how he grew up in the "shadow" of the black woman: though the idea of "shadow" is used as an affirmation of the positive effects of growing up near this beauty rather than as a type of negative implication.

Later in the poem, Senghor says:

I come upon you, my Promised Land,
And your beauty strikes me to the heart
like the flash of an eagle.

These lines compare the black woman being discussed to Africa itself, thus furthering the celebration of beauty. Senghor makes a concrete connection between the woman and the land that they come from, asserting that not only does Africa shape the beauty but that the beauty shapes Africa as well.

Celebration of Africa and African Culture

Beyond just praising the beauty of blackness, the poem also celebrates and reflects upon Africa and African culture. Senghor mentions the Princes of Mali, Gazelles, and savannahs, as well as tom-tom drums "muttering / under the Conqueror's fingers." This line is likely a reference to colonialism in Senegal (or even Africa at large). It acknowledges and empowers the ways that Africans were able to use African culture to subvert European imperialism.

Mortality

The end of the poem turns to ideas of mortality and the natural progression of life into death. Senghor writes that he fixes the titular woman "in the Eternal" before she is turned "to ashes to / feed the roots of life." Here, he acknowledges that, despite the beauty (of women, of the culture, of the land, of everything), all must eventually turn to dust and help build other things. This is a sort of spiritual "circle of life," and he uses his poem to freeze a moment of beauty before it must give way to something else.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 478

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 imagination, an idealized African woman in several roles: in the first stanza, as mother, and thus comforting; in the second stanza, as lover, and thus erotic; and in the last line of the last stanza, as nourisher of life. There is a certain sweetness in this poem, a contemplative quality, a quiet appreciation of the African woman, and the emotions the poet experiences at her sight and at her touch. He details his pleasure in contemplating her and the comfort he experiences in her presence.

He realizes that life is transitory, that even though beauty seems permanent, time works on the individual woman. He is a poet, however, and he informs this woman that he is celebrating her beauty and her form in poetry, before she returns to ashes. The final stanza affirms the gift and the mission of the poet as someone who can relate the temporal to the eternal; as Pierre de Ronsard wrote to immortalize the passing beauty of his Helen, or Cassandra, or Marie, so can Senghor immortalize the beauty of the black woman. Thus the last stanza, even though potentially tragic as to the fate of the individual black woman, ends on a note of hope. These very ashes will be used to nourish life anew.

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