“For My People” was mostly written in a fifteen-minute burst of brilliant inspiration. Its principal tactics are inventory—a concretization of the feeling—and repetition, a concentration and intensification of the poem’s passion and political resolve, especially tuned for oral presentation.
Stanza I begins the chronology of African American history with the first of six incantations of “for my people,” recalling the songs of an enslaved race—of sadness, of verbal play, of grief, of the rare times of joy, and of supplication and submission to whatever God has willed.
Stanza II describes the tasks of slavery, performed in uncompensated and blind hope: “washing, ironing, cooking, scrubbing, sewing, mending, hoeing, plowing, digging, planting, pruning, patching.”
Stanza III goes from the ancestral past to Walker’s childhood with a list of her places and acts of play in Alabama—baptizing, preaching, doctor, jail, soldier, school, mama, cooking, concert, store, hair, and “Miss Choomby and company,” Walker’s childhood code for African American grown-up women.
Stanza IV remembers the experience of going to a segregated school to learn the bitter truth of how being black in America was to be poor and politically ignored.
Stanza V celebrates the youth who bravely grew to maturity against these obstacles, had some fun and joy, married and had children, and then died of “consumption and...
(The entire section is 416 words.)