Themes and Meanings
The reader of “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine” should recall that the late 1980’s, when the poem was written, was a period of raging political and literary debate about the depiction of black men in novels by black women—and in the media at large—as brutal rapists and victimizers. This debate frequently centered on Alice Walker’s novel (and the film adaptation of) The Color Purple (1982). Shange often found herself in the middle of the debate because of her widely popular play, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf (1976), which depicted black men as potential rapists and killers of black women. Against this backdrop, “irrepressibly bronze, beautiful and mine” can be seen for what it is—a political love poem to black men.
The basic message of the poem is that the speaker has for all of her life felt intimately connected to black men. The black man she is addressing toward the end of section 1 is literally the friend of her father, who used to appear every summer, but is also an image of black men she has known throughout her life. All of her life, she says to him, she has been holding his heart in her hand. This is a turn on the cliché of holding “my heart in my hand” and implies not that she has always wanted to give herself to him but that she has always felt that she had a part of him she wanted to give to him. It also implies that the man in...
(The entire section is 462 words.)