The final two lines of the poem do not conclude on an optimistic note, nor do they provide readers with the details they might be seeking in order to better understand who this person is and what her situation is. Despite this, it is very possible to imagine the suffering that this woman is going through and place oneself in her shoes. The poem is a “fragment” of this woman’s life and only provides readers with a “fragment” of information about her.
‘Fragment’ by Angelina Weld Grimké depicts a “black black” woman and the issues she deals with on a day-to-day basis.
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker begins by describing herself as a “black black” woman who laughs. She laughs despite the struggles she deals with on a day-to-day basis. As the poem progresses, it becomes clear that getting enough food to eat is an issue for her. She “toils” in the heat and cold in order to make ends meet. The poet concludes by noting that her speaker laughs because she can’t remember how to cry and because she’s afraid to sleep.
You can read the full poem here.
I am the woman with the black black skin
I am toiling just to eat
In the first four lines of the poem, the poet utilizes very clear examples of alliteration and anaphora. She repeats the same phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, “I am. “Several more also start with the same “I am the.” By beginning multiple lines in this way, the poet is able to create a list like feeling in their text. Through accumulation, the poet collects suggestions about her speaker to create a broader image that readers can interpret.
For example, the speaker describes herself as “the woman with the black black skin.” This is the first thing that she wants readers to know about herself and will influence their understanding of the following lines. She utilizes the phrase “black black” again in the second line. The speaker has dark skin, darker than average (or at least in her assessment of herself), it is “black black.”
The poet also uses juxtaposition in these lines, contrasting the woman “laughing” with the woman “toiling just to eat” and “living in the cellars.” The transition between the first two lines and the next two lines is quite stark. It becomes clear quite quickly that this poem is not one filled with optimistic and interesting statements about a woman’s life. Instead, the poem is going to delve into the darker sides of the speaker’s life. She struggles on a day-to-day basis. As lines four and five note, she has to “toil” in the heat and cold just to eat.
In the cold and in the heat
I am the laughing woman who’s afraid to go to sleep
The speaker struggles to make ends meet and to survive in her day-to-day life. She is the “laughing woman” but she is also the struggling woman. She has these sides of herself that are described, briefly, within the eight lines of the poem. The “laughing woman” returns in the last three lines when the speaker says that she has forgotten “how to weep” and is “afraid to go to sleep.” The final line is haunting and will likely suggest different conclusions to different readers.
Perhaps, the speaker is fearful of what she’s going to see in her dreams. Or, perhaps she’s worried that time spent sleeping is going to be time away from the work she needs to do in order to survive. ‘Fragment’ ends on this less than optimistic note without a conclusion or hint as to what becomes of this woman.
The poem is written in the moment. That is, it is written while the woman is struggling and has yet to get to a place in her life where she can look back on this darker period with perspective. In fact, it’s unclear from the short lines whether or not the speaker is ever going to escape her daily “toil “and the crowded places and which she struggles and laughs.
Structure and Form
‘Fragment’ by Angelina Weld Grimké is an eight-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The poem follows the rhyme scheme of ABBCCDEE. These perfect rhymes as emphasized through the poet’s use of anaphora. This is seen through the repetition of the same phrase, “I am the” at the beginning of six of the eight lines.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to
- Repetition: can be seen when the poet repeats the same word, image, form, or other part of their text. In this case, the poet utilizes repetition in her format, in the descriptions she presents of herself, and in line one with the use of “black” twice.
- Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For example, “I am the” which begins all but two of the lines.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines five and six.
- Imagery: can be seen with the poet uses especially effective examples and descriptions. For example, “I am toiling just to eat / In the cold and in the heat.”
The main theme of this poem is struggle. Despite the repetition of the word “laugh,” the image that readers are going to walk away with is that of a Black woman struggling, and toiling, to make ends meet in order to “just… eat.”
The purpose is to describe the contrasting elements of a woman’s life. She laughs because she doesn’t remember how to cry and laughs despite toiling for food and being afraid to go to sleep. She and her life are far from straightforward. It’s this struggle that the poet wanted to illuminate.
The speaker is unknown. The only details that the poet reveals is that the speaker is a woman and that she sees her skin as “black black.” She struggles to make ends meet and has suffered enough to where she is beyond weeping and is afraid to go to sleep.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related pieces. For example:
- ‘The Witch’s Life’ by Anne Sexton – a poem about understanding the process of aging and becoming someone that you never expected to in your youth.
- ‘Loving you less than life, a little less’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay – conveys the speaker’s feelings about her partner and the struggles they go through.
- ‘Black Woman’ by Georgia Douglas Johnson – contains the words of a woman, desperate to have a child but unwilling to bring one into the world.