Critical Analysis- Praise Song for my Mother by Grace Nichols
This poem is a lyrical ballad written with a simple rhyme scheme of a-b-c. ab-c.
The poem, as the name suggests is a song where the poet is rejoicing her relationship with her mother by making use of simple but powerful imagery. It is important to note that unlike the commemorative poems that are usually written by Western writers, “Praise for My Mother” does not have a requiem like elegiac mood. The overall tone of the poem is pleasant.
“Praise Song” is a panegyric on the writer’s mother. in which she celebrates a woman who gave her both roots to grow from and wings to fly with. Writing about her own mother, Nichols once commented that she was a ‘… warm, intelligent, loving woman who was full of stories, anecdotes and songs from her own childhood. People loved being around her and I can’t remember a single day when our home wasn’t visited by some friend, neighbour or relative who had dropped in “just fuh [sic] minute” but ended up staying hours.’
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Starting with the vocabulary, it is vivid but hard-hitting. The writer uses the images of water, moon and sun- all powerful symbols of nature, to describe her mother’s character which shows her strength of personality and the extent of her love and affection towards her. The red colour of the fish’s gills is reminiscent of the maternal love; a break from the clichéd usage of the colour red in “standard” English literature where the colour is usually associated with sensuality.
Talking about the lyrical style, a look at the formative years of Grace Nichols in Guyana may shed some light on her writing and choice of subject. She was born into a world of books and music. Her father was a head teacher and at home she was surrounded by books – she was fascinated by the kingdom of books and language. Her mother used to give piano lessons. The first 8 years of her life that she spent in a village left an imprint on her that shows in the poem as well; the rhythm of music and the beat of pan, the call of the fisherman and the fruit vendor, the odour of mud and salt when she went crab hunting (“the crab’s leg”), the whole of the morning sky, the whole of the evening sky, (“sunrise” and “moon’s eye”). The poem is also repetitive, 'replenishing replenishing'. The poet may have opted for this because it brings a sense of childhood as a young child would repeat words. Nichols wants to use this effect because the repetitive content relates to a child's attitude, which will then recall the memories Nichols had of her mother when she was a child.
Food is a very important part of Caribbean culture and tradition. The home-cooked food is something that does not have any alternative. The writer’s memory of her mother is not complete without thinking about or mentioning the food she used to cook. This intensifies the sacrifice that the writer’s mother had to make for her daughter’s brighter, "Wide futures”. As Nichols once pointed out, “Like a beacon in London, every now and then I get this craving for my mother’s food. I leave art galleries in search of plantains, salt fish, sweet potatoes; I need this link, I need this touch of home, swinging my bag like a beacon against the cold.”
Praise song for my mother Fat Black Woman Tropical Death Grace Nichols puts the image across that the issue of culture is extremely important to her. Through her poems we understand that she is confused of her identity. When she moved to London she felt as though she was living in an alien world. Grace Nichols was longing for a cultural identity in Britain and she tends to describe Britain negatively and the Caribbean positively. This is why throughout the poems she applies her own dialect of Creole, which is the official dialect of the Caribbean. She also uses Creole because she feels as though she should preserve it. She maintains that her Caribbean language is 'genuinely exciting' and that Creole's aspects are very vivid which concludes her to believe that there is no equivalent in the English language.
Nichols has successfully carved a niche for her culture and poetry in the existing canon of complex poets and poetry by writing in a laymen’s register. This is a poetry that everyone can understand and read. This is a poetry that everyone can identify with. This is the poetry the Nichols has written for her countrymen, for her mother, for her roots- it is a tribute to her roots back at home. We get a clear sense of this in ‘Praise Song for My Mother’, in which she talks of a mother who is ‘deep and bold and fathoming’ and who ‘replenishes’ her whenever she needs comfort.
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There are some good points made in this essay and contextual factors are also considered. The point and the evidence are normally secure but the explanations need to be developed to justify the interpretations that are being made. 4 Stars