Poems: Praise Song for My Mother (Imagery/ Diction (• “pull and grained…
Poems: Praise Song for My Mother
The title makes the subject of the poem very clear.
A “Praise song” is a traditional form from many African cultures,
often sung rather than written down,
giving an informal style and the ease to be passed on.
Perhaps also linking to hymn like religious praise.
This poem shows the speaker as a child
celebrating her mother and explaining all her qualities that have influenced and helped the speaker.
and praise giving
a positive, active and affirming tone.
• Three stanzas of three lines each –
very similar in form.
The fourth stanza is similar but extended
giving emphasis to the significance of the final lines.
• Rhymes are feminine reflecting the focus on the mother.
• Anaphora gives a rhythmic refrain synonymous with song.
• 2,4,7 syllables –
reflects stability and order in childhood
with the pattern breaking as the child moves towards independence.
• There is very little punctuation in the poem
letting ideas run together
and reflecting the idea that the love between mother and daughter will not be separated by events or time.
• “You were”
the anaphora of this phrase in the past tense gives the idea of looking back
but also establishes the mother as the root or source of what the speaker has become.
It could also indicate the mother’s absence from the present perhaps.
the first three stanzas end with a line that lists with repeated ‘ands’ (polysyndeton) the qualities of the mother.
The structure gives rhythm and pace
whilst accentuating the many and varied strengths of each metaphoric quality.
The first four stanzas all end with a verb
indicating the active, shaping role the mother played in her daughter’s life.
• “water to me”;
the first metaphor shows the mother to be water; ,
and fundamental to survival.
• “deep and bold and fathoming”
she explains the metaphor in terms of size, strength and almost as a gauge for her own development.
• “moon’s eye to me”;
the second metaphor personifies the moon seeing the mother as the ‘moon’s eye’.
Perhaps this shows a protective, watchful mother.
The moon is symbolic of light in the sky but also of great power as it controls the tides.
• “pull and grained and mantling”.
This description adds to the idea of the moon’s gravitational strength,
perhaps hinting that the speaker is drawn to the mother and to her protection.
The idea of being ‘grained’ could link to the mother as the source of growth, growing from a seedling.
Or it could refer to the grain of wood;
the imprint or impression the mother has ingrained in her daughter.
The idea of ‘mantling’ suggests protection and cover,
provided by the mother.
• “sunrise to me” – –
the sun is again a life force without which we could not survive
synonymous with light, warmth and power.
• “rise and warm and streaming”.
The sunrise is also linked with hope and beginnings
and the image of this warmth ‘streaming’ suggests that this light, warmth is all pervading and endless
• “the fishes red gill to me”.
The gill is vital to the fish for survival,
for breathing in a very basic way.
So too the child is dependent on the mother.
• “the flame trees spread to me” –
these trees give protection and cover (spread)
whilst also symbolizing life and growth.
• “the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell”
like the fish, the crab links back to the image of water from the first stanza.
Here she seems to be referring to the food and nourishment that the mother provided.
the double verb shows that, like the tide and the sunrise, the mother was always there,
always providing the things necessary for her daughter’s growth.
This reinforces the idea of security and certainty.
The mother always replaces what has been lost or what is missing.
• “Go to your wide futures, you said”.
The final line shows the mother sees the future as undefined by the mother herself.
She has created a secure base for future possibilities –
she has not sought to control or decide her daughter’s future.
The use of nature establishes the timeless, reliable quality of the maternal bond.
This is the first and only direct quotation from the mother showing that the whole world is open to her daughter.