What happens in milk and honey?
milk and honey is a bestselling collection of poetry by Rupi Kaur. It's divided into four "chapters" or parts: The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking, The Healing. As you read it, you'll notice that every other poem in the book is accompanied by an illustration hand-drawn by the author.
Most of the poems in the collection are written from the point of view of a woman who was sexually abused as a child and an adult. This abuse permanently alters the way she thinks of and relates to the world, affecting her relationship with her father (and with men in general).
Each chapter of the book focuses on a different part of the speaker's life, following her from childhood (The Hurting) to her first good relationship (The Loving) and through her breakup and healing process.
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.
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.
"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
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"
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 entire section is 1,220 words.)