milk and honey

by Rupi Kaur

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milk and honey Summary

milk and honey is a collection of poetry by Rupi Kaur. It's divided into four parts: The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking, The Healing, each of which represents a different stage in the speaker's life.

  • The collection is written from the point of view of a woman who was sexually abused. This abuse permanently alters the way she relates to the world and profoundly impacts her relationships with others.

  • Each section focuses on a different part of the speaker's life, following her from childhood, into her first good relationship, through the breakup of that relationship, and into the subsequent healing process.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1220

milk and honey draws its title from Exodus 33:3, in which God promises to bring the Israelites to "a land flowing with milk and honey." This land of milk and honey is a place of great beauty and hope, a metaphor for the Promised Land. Rupi Kaur equates this milk and honey with kindness. "how is it so easy for you / to be kind to people" asks a man in the first poem in the collection. Kaur's response ("cause people have not / been kind to me") sets the stage for the rest of the poems in the collection, which explore themes of sexual abuse, survival, love, loss, and what it means to be a woman in this day and age. Every other page in the collection includes a picture hand-drawn by the author herself, illustrating one of these themes.

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milk and honey was originally self-published in November of 2014. Its incredible success landed the poetry collection on The New York Times Bestseller list and resulted in the collection being reissued by Andrews McMeel Publishing in November of 2015. milk and honey's success is due in large part to the universality of its themes, which appeal to readers everywhere and directly address issues that all women face. It's divided into four "chapters"—The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking, and The Healing. These chapters roughly correspond to the speaker's development as she goes from being an abused child to a loving girlfriend to a heartbroken yet empowered woman.

The Hurting
The Hurting focuses primarily on the speaker's experiences of abuse. Though the poems are written, with a few notable exceptions, in the first person, it would be a mistake to assume Rupi Kaur herself is the speaker. Instead, readers should think of the poems as insights and confessions from a woman grappling with her own history of abuse. In one poem, the speaker says,

"every time you
tell your daughter
you yell at her
out of love
you teach her to confuse
anger with kindness"
In another, she says,
"he was supposed to be
the first male love of your life
you still search for him


- father"

In these poems, a narrative begins to emerge: the speaker, like so many women before her, has been abused by her father, her uncle, and various men in her life. Her mother knew this, but was herself a victim and was forced to remain silent. In one particularly moving poem, the speaker says,

"my father shoves the word hush
between [my mother's] lips and tells her to
never speak with her mouth full
this is how the women in my family
learned to live with their mouths closed"

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This young speaker has been taught that women are subservient to men, that her body is a "pit stop for men / that need a place to rest." She's unable to stop or speak up about the abuse. Over time, she internalizes the lessons her father has taught her, repeating to herself, "i am nothing," like she's told. This abuse has lasting effects on her self-esteem, her relationship with her father, and, perhaps most importantly, the way she perceives and interacts with the world. Her love life is haunted by her past sexual experiences. In the last poem of this chapter, the speaker says, "i flinch when you touch me / i fear it is him."

The Loving
The Loving marks an important shift in the collection. It sees the speaker, now an adult, engaging in consensual sexual relationships with men. Her opinion of herself and her body has been irrevocably shaped by her father, who both sexually abused her and told her that "the closest thing to god on this earth / is a woman's body," because "it's where life comes from." She carries this wisdom with her in her adult life, thinking of her body as a place of beauty, complication, longing, and pain. She falls in love with a man she recognizes as "the type / of man i'd want to raise my son to be like."

Their relationship has a profound effect on the speaker. She associates it with safety, taking comfort in the sound of his voice when he reads aloud to her and in the touch of his hands on her skin. She's not used to men treating her this well, and she has to learn "how to love him / by loving [herself]." It isn't easy, and she doesn't particularly want it to be. As she says, "i crave goddamn difficult." In fact, their relationship isn't actually perfect, and in the last poem of the chapter the speaker admits they've "been arguing more than [they] ought to" about trivial things. This poem isn't lineated, but takes the form of a long prose poem, which emphasizes the underlying narrative of their relationship.

The Breaking
The Breaking is the longest chapter of the poetry collection, almost as long as the first two chapters combined. It chronicles the speaker's painful breakup with her boyfriend, who has grown "so distant / [she] forgot" he was there. In the second poem of this chapter, the speaker snaps to her boyfriend's defense when her mother says she deserves better; but the speaker soon realizes that her relationship is, indeed, falling apart. When she breaks up with him, she thinks bitterly of the woman who'll come after her, calling her a "bootleg / version of who i am."

Following the speaker's breakup, Kaur begins to write more generally of relationships with men. In one poem, she writes,

"you mustn't have to
make them want you
they must want you themselves"
In another, she writes,
"did you think i was a city…
don't come here with expectations
and try to make a vacation out of me"

Here, the speaker begins to speak out against the sexism and misogyny that teaches men to think of women as little more than sexual objects. She refuses to be diminished, claiming she broke up with him because she was tired of feeling "anything less / than whole." She feels resentment and regret in the aftermath of the breakup. She has an affairs and slowly forgets him; but she still remembers how it felt to be in love like that, and she's still heartbroken. She creates a to-do list for after the breakup. Number one on that list: "take refuge in your bed."

The final poem in this chapter reads:

"the way they
tells you

The Healing

Many of the poems in The Healing consist of aphorisms like "do not bother holding onto / that thing that does not want you" or "accept that you deserve more / than painful love." These aphorisms help the speaker heal after all the grief and the trauma she has experienced. She begins to understand that healing is a process and that in order to achieve it she must look within herself for the answers. Pain can be mined before beauty, she says. Solitude can be a kind of comfort. Her self-esteem grows, and she realizes that she deserves more. She finds strength in herself and in fellowship. Kaur writes:

"our struggle to
celebrate each other is
what's proven most difficult
in being human"

The collection ends on a positive note, however, with the speaker thanking the man who "split [her] open," because that forced her to write and to find her voice as a poet.

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