‘I Give You Thanks My God’ by Bernard Dadié is a thirty-six line poem, translated from the original French, written by Ivorian author, Bernard Dadié. The poem is quite varied in its line lengths and syllable numbers but maintains a sense of unity through the repetition of keywords and phrases. The title line, “I give you thanks my God for having created me black,” is repeated a number of times throughout the poem. It is used to remind the reader that although life can be unbearable, the speaker is still glad to be who he is.
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Summary of I Give You Thanks My God
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is glad to have been made in the form that he is in. Although he is the “total of all sorrows,” as Christ was, he is happy to bear the weight of the world. He feels power in the blackness that does not exist within the white man who only has the “colour improvised for an occasion.”
He continues to describe the depths of his appreciation for his form. He is thankful for his nose, legs, and head and the fact that they give him the strength to bear all that the world forces on him and on those like him.
I Give You Thanks My God concludes with additional references to Christ and a comparison between the life of a black man, and the crucifixion.
Analysis of I Give You Thanks My God
The narrator begins this piece by speaking the line that will act as a refrain throughout each section of the poem and is also the phrase for which the poem is named.
The speaker, directing his words directly to “God,” gives his thanks for, “having created [him] black.” While acting as both the refrain and title, this line is also the most important of the piece. It contains the main theme, and purpose, behind the poem’s creation. The speaker wants his listeners, and God, to know that he is proud of and thankful for his blackness. He feels no wish that his circumstances were changed, or any desire to be anyone else.
The speaker continues on to state that he is glad to have been made the “total of all sorrows,” and to have the whole weight of the “World” on his “head.” This is in turn both an ironic statement, and one that will carry a powerful truth as the poem continues. This line is a reference to a particular chapter of the Bible, Isaiah 53:3, in which Christ is referred to as being “a man of sorrows” who is despised by all and well “acquainted with grief.” Thus begins the comparison between the black man and Christ.
The speaker sees himself, and all the black men of the world, as bearing the sorrows of all people. They have been, throughout time, at the receiving end of unknowable pain and grief. In an expansion of this metaphor, the speaker continues on to describe himself as wearing the “livery of the Centaur.”
He is like the mythical half-man, half-horse, creature that inhabits much of Greek mythology. The speaker refers to his own perception of himself that has been changed by the perceptions of others. He is seen as less than fully human.
In the final lines of this section the speaker states that “White is a colour” only for a particular “occasion,” it is a fleeting state that does not imbue the man with true power. “Black” on the other hand, is “the colour of all days.” His cultural history is so rich and powerful that it will give him the strength to go on with the worldly burdens that have been his since, “the first night” when God created man.
Lines 11- 21
After this dark and revealing image has been painted about what it is to be a black man living in the world, the speaker returns to his own particular emotions. Although the past, present, and future may be dark, he is “happy.” He is content with, “the shape of my head…”
Fashioned to carry the world,
Satisfied with the shape of my nose,
Which should breathe all the air of the World,
The speaker is happy to be who is he. He is happy to have been endowed with the “nose” and “head” that enable him to exist in the world and bear its burdens. He continues on with this pattern of lines, stating that he is happy with the “form of his legs” that allow him to “run through” the “World.”
This section ends with the speaker thanking God once more for “having created me black.”
The poem is now coming to its conclusion and the speaker once more turns to darker biblical imagery to describe the nature of his, and many other’s, existence.
He refers to “Thirty-six swords” that “pierced [his] heart” and “Thirty-brands” that “burned [his] body.” These lines are again echos from the Bible. It is hard to ignore the similarities of the speaker’s suffering and that of Christ on the cross. Both were tortured for their natures, and both used that suffering positively. This comparison is further solidified when the speaker says that the “blood on all the calvaries has reddened the snow.” This is a direct reference to the hill on which Christ was crucified, Calvary.
His blood has been spilled around the world on every site that is like Calvary. It has “reddened” the ground in all corners of the world.
Once more the poem turns optimistic as the speaker reminds himself, and his readers, that “yet” he is “Happy to carry the World” and is “content” with his form.
The final lines of this poem relate directly back to those in the first sections. He once more thank God for making him in the form that He has. He is “black,” and glad to be that way, even though it forces him to bear such weight and such torment. The speaker repeats, for emphasis, the fact that “Black” is the “colour of all days.”
In the final lines the refrain is said once more and is accompanied by the statement that his strength has provided him with the ability to “laugh” and through his laughter bring “forth day” to overcome the night.
About Bernard Dadié
Bernard Dadié was born in 1916 in Assini, Côte d’Ivoire, Africa. Dadié attended school in Senegal where he first discovered his passion for folklore and playwriting. This passion would not abate when he returned to Côte d’Ivoire and began working as a teacher. He founded the National Drama Studio and would go on to become minister of culture.
His first book of poems was published in 1950 and was titled Afrique debout, or Africa Upright. He would follow this volume with the publication of two books of short stories and then an autobiographical novel, Climbie. His knowledge of African folklore allowed him to write a number of volumes containing legends and proverbs.
He continued to publish novels, collections of verse, and several plays throughout the sixties and seventies. In the eighties, he wrote one novel, Commandant Taurcault es yes nègres, and a book of short stories, Les Contes de Koutou-As-Samala. Bernard Dadié is now 102.