Grace Nichols

Praise Song For My Mother by Grace Nichols

Here is an analysis of Grace Nichols’ poem ‘Praise Song For My Mother’.  Nichols was born and raised in Guyana, a nation that is considered to be a part of the Caribbean, even though it is located in South America.  Much of Nichols’ work is influenced by the Caribbean culture in which she grew up.  She held teaching and reporting jobs in Guyana after finishing her university work, and she immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1977.  Her first book of poetry, called I Is A Long-Memoried Woman, won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1983. Nichols is known not only as a poet, but also as a children’s author; in addition, she has written one book for adults called Whole of a Morning Sky.

Praise Song For My Mother by Grace Nichols



In African poetry, a praise song is a poem comprised of a series of epithets that laud the subject of the poem.  In the case of this poem, it is probably safe to assume that the speaker is Grace Nichols, who is writing a praise song in honor of her mother.  Nichols uses a series of metaphors to show just how much her mother meant to her.  The poem is five stanzas long, and each stanza, with the exception of the final two, is three lines each; the fourth stanza, the poem’s longest, contains five lines.  ‘Praise Song For My Mother’ ends with only one line in the final stanza.  It reads, “Go to your wide futures, you said.”


Analysis of Praise Song For My Mother

The first noteworthy aspect of ‘Praise Song For My Mother’, which can be read in full here, is the verb tense Nichols chooses.  When speaking of her mother, Nichols writes in the past tense, and one can assume that this is because her mother has passed away.  For instance, the first stanza reads, “You were/ water to me/deep and bold and fathoming.”


Stanza One

You were
deep and bold and fathoming

This first stanza sets up the structure of the poem, which Nichols follows until the final line of the work.  In each stanza, Nichols uses metaphors to compare her mother’s worth to something in nature.  For instance, in the first stanza, Nichols compares her mother to water, something that is essential for survival.  Her mother was not just any water, however: she was powerful and deep and bold.

Another interesting aspect of ‘Praise Song For My Mother’ is just how intimate and personal it is.  Nichols is directly addressing her mother in the poem, referring to her as “you.”


Stanza Two

You were
pull and grained and mantling

Much like the first stanza, Nichols continues to speak directly to her mother, and this time, she compares her to the moon.  The reader can almost detect a Caribbean accent here, as Nichols omits the word “the” between “were” and “moon’s”.  The meaning of this stanza is somewhat ambiguous, but perhaps the phrase “moon’s eye” is an expression native to Guyana, where Nichols was raised.  Nichols probably uses the word “pull” to describe the moon’s control over the oceans’ tides.  Just like the ocean, Nichols cannot help but be pulled toward her mother.  The word “grained” could refer to the physical appearance of the moon, with its rough and uneven surface, which could possibly symbolize her mother’s experiences in life.  Nichols diction continues to be perplexing in this stanza with her use of the word mantling, which is defined as a piece of cloth used to decorate various items, such as clothing and helmets.  It is possible that Nichols is referring to her mother’s physical beauty in this metaphor.


Stanza Three

You were
rise and warm and streaming

The third stanza mirrors the first and second in terms of structure and style, but it is much more simplistic than the previous stanza.  Nichols seems to be commenting on her mother’s dependability.  Just as the sun rises every morning, so could Nichols depend on her mother to always be there.  And not only was her mother dependable, but she was also very loving and radiant.  Nichols’ use of the word streaming presents the idea that her mother radiated a vibrant life wherever she went.


Stanza Four

You were
replenishing replenishing

The fourth stanza takes on a different style compared with the first three.  Structurally, this stanza is two lines longer than the first four.  The content of this stanza is also different from the previous ones.  In this particular stanza, Nichols uses images from her native country of Guyana to compare what her mother means to her.  She is the red gills of the fish; not only was she colorful, but she was essential to life, much like she appeared in the first stanza when Nichols compared her to water.  Nichols next compares her mother to a flame tree’s spread.  A flame tree is a big tree that usually has vibrant red leaves.  It is beautiful and stands out from other types of trees, which is presumably how Nichols feels her mother was when she was alive.  In the fourth line, Nichols compares her mother to the foods she ate while growing up: crab’s legs and plantains.  One’s sense of smell is the most powerful in terms of conjuring memories, and Nichols probably associates her mother with these smells. The stanza ends with repetition of the word “replenishing.”  Nichols emphasizes here just how vital her mother was to her.  Not only was she a necessary part of life, though, she also constantly restored her daughter and made her better, healthier, and stronger.


Stanza Five

The final stanza is a complete departure from the others, and it is just one line long.  It reads:

Go to your wide futures, you said.

There is no comparison in this final stanza, but it is just as powerful as the other lines of ‘Praise Song For My Mother’.  Instead of comparing her mother to something else, Nichols is revealing the encouraging and inspirational woman she was by telling the reader exactly what she used to stay to her daughter.  Pluralizing the word “future” is an interesting choice for Nichols; however, a person can certainly make more than one future in life.


Historical Background 

Nichols’ Caribbean upbringing directly influenced her writing, although the influence in this poem is much more subdued than it is in Nichols’ other works.  Nichols wrote this poem after her mother’s death, which also makes this much more personal than the majority of her other poems.

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Jamie Jenson Poetry Expert
Jamie joined the Poem Analysis team back in November, 2010. He has a passion for poetry and enjoys analysing and providing interpretations for poetry from the past and present.
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