The Mothering Blackness by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s most memorable poem ‘The Mothering Blackness’ is published in her collection “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water Fore I Die.” In this poem, she deals with the relationship between a mother and daughter. The poem’s unique structure illustrates that there are two people, and both their perspective is shared.

The Mothering Blackness by Maya Angelou

 

Summary of The Mothering Blackness

The Mothering Blackness ‘ is kind of a semi-autobiographical poem published following Maya Angelou’s time in Ghana. She felt like a prodigal daughter, while Africa received her with the unconditional love of a mother.

In ‘The Mothering Blackness’ a young girl is confronted with the problem of returning home.  She is running home in the dark crying because she knew she did something that her mother wouldn’t agree with. In her journey back home, she worries that her mother will not accept her. She is “creeping” back home because she feels ashamed of what she did. But the lines intended, show otherwise for despite knowing what the daughter has done, her mother, wanting her to come back. The intended lines portray their mother and daughter relationship’s complexity and allow both their points of view to be seen.

 

Themes of The Mothering Blackness

The central idea of the poem focuses on the mother and daughter relationship. Within the relationship, the poem explores the idea of anxiety, fear, forgiveness, comfort, darkness, etc. The poem emphasizes on mother’s love and forgiving nature. Mothers though tend to forgive, especially their children, with open arms and tend to forget anything that has happened as long as their child is safe.

 

Mood and Tone of The Mothering Blackness

The mood is a “feel” that readers get as they read. The overall mood of the poem is blissful. Though it opens with anxiety as the daughter worries about meeting her poem, the mother’s willingness to accept her daughter gives a positive vibe to the mood of the poem.

Similarly, the tone employed is foreboding. Readers can feel the shift in tone as the perspective changes between the daughter and mother. The daughter’s tone seems to be painful and troubled as she runs home with “white tears icicle gold plains of her face.” But as the poem reaches the end of the poem, it shifts to be more comforting “Threats of northern winds die on the desert’s face/ She came home blameless”.

 

Form and Structure of The Mothering Blackness

‘The Mothering Blackness,’ like most of Angelou’s poems, is written in unstructured free verse. It doesn’t follow any regular form or meter. The poem has three stanzas with five lines each. Three of the five lines are indented which enables the readers to distinguish and understand the perspectives of the speakers. The three stanzas present different images of Blackness while depicting the characters of the mother and daughter: “mothering blackness” and “black arms waiting.” The first line of each stanza is from the daughter’s point of view. In this case, she wants to come home because of something urgent that happened as stated before. That last line is the same but indented is the mother’s point of view of the same scenario.

 

Literary Poetic Devices Used in The Mothering Blackness

Allusion

The allusion is a figure of speech, in which an object or circumstance from an unrelated context is used in which the audience is to make the direct connection. In this poem, Angelou uses the reference “Hagar’s daughter” and “Sheba’s daughter”. Hagar, a Biblical figure with whom Abraham had an illegitimate child, and whose line was cursed. Similarly, she feels that her line (black) is cursed. Sheba was a queen of Ethiopia, who is often believed to be black.

 

Extended metaphor

Metaphor helps to compare things indirectly. The poem uses extended metaphor, to an extent, the poem itself an extended metaphor. “Icicle tears” or “the maternal bond” portrays the poet’s character development throughout this poem and this collection. When observed closely, the readers can feel Angelou making a connection between Africa and herself, through the mother and daughter bond.

 

Diction

Diction is a writer’s choice of vocabulary and style of expression in a poem. Here, Angelou uses words such as “creeping,” “tears,” “arms waiting,” and “heart waiting” that help the reader infer the true feelings of the characters. Her choice of vocabulary and phrases are sufficient evidence that differentiates the characteristics of the Mother and Daughter.

 

Repetition

Repetition is a literary device that repeats the same words or phrases a few times to make an idea clearer and more memorable. In this poem Angelou repeats phrases in each stanza like “came home running,” “came down creeping,” and “came home blameless.” The repetition used helps to identify the emotion of the mother and the daughter.

 

Analysis of The Mothering Blackness

Stanza One

She came home running

back to the mothering blackness

deep in the smothering blackness

white tears icicle gold plains of her face

She came home running

The first stanza of ‘The Mothering Blackness,’ deals with a speaker coming back home, which she might have left on an earlier occasion. Starting with “came home running,” the poet tries to convey that the speaker is in some trouble. “She” could possibly be a young girl corresponding with the words “home” and “mothering”. Maya being an African American, “blackness,” indicates that the girl is black and her mother is black. Coming back with tears is an indication of her realization of the mistake. While, the words “mothering” and “smothering” indicate the comfort of her home, with her mother.

The mother’s perspective in the indented lines makes it clear that the daughter has to nothing worry, for her mother is waiting for her, despite what could have happened in the past. In the well-framed imagery, the daughter’s blackness is contrasted with “white tears.” The tears turned hard as “icicle” could be a symbol to the climatic difference between America and Africa, which can be understood in comparing with the phrase “rime of alien dreams befrosts”.

 

Stanza Two

She came down creeping

(…)

She came down creeping

In the second stanza of ‘The Mothering Blackness,’ the daughter is “creeping” back home. From her initial rush (running) to be back at home, her pace has slowed down, for she might have neared her house and the anxiety of facing her mother might have caused this slowness. On the other hand, the following intended lines with “black arms waiting,” and “warm heart waiting” makes it clear that her mother is eagerly waiting, despite for her daughter’s anxiety. The mother seems to be a willing person to forgive her daughter with unconditional love.

In the following line, Angelou speaks of “alien dreams” which could be a reference to the “slave trade,” which brought her ancestors to America. ‘Rime’ in general is the frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapor, here, it could be the meaning of the salt of dried tears, which is caused by the daughter being away from her mother.

 

Stanza Three

She came home blameless

(…)

She came home blameless

In the third stanza of ‘The Mothering Blackness,’ Angelou refers to both “slave trade” and “freedom”. She came home blameless, despite what caused her to be away from home. This is emphasized with her choices of allusion “Hagar’s daughter,” and Sheba’s daughter.  Finally, the daughter is received back at home “blameless” because of her forgiving mother who accepts with fault finding. Angelou compares this emotion of the daughter and mother, with the “northern winds” that finally cease at the shores of Sahara. In a comprehensive view, the readers are explained how the repentant daughter finds her solace from the forgiving mother.

 

Historical Context

The poem was published in a 1972 collection, following Angelou’s own sojourn in Egypt and Ghana from 1961 to 1965. During this period she broke up with her then-partner Vusumzi Make and moved to Ghana with her son, Guy. Readers could find reference made in the poem which alludes to “Hager,” and “Queen of Sheba,” who according to the record went back to bring up their son alone.  Ghana at that time (the first European colony in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa to gain its independence) ran a program encouraging African-Americans to move there.  (Wikipedia: African-Americans in Ghana)

 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem can also read the poem that deals with Mother-Daughter, Mother-Son relationship. If you have enjoyed this  poem, read some of the other poems by African-American poets or read Maya Angelou’s other poems, such as:

  1. ‘In and Out of Time’ is a touching depiction of a powerful relationship between two people who have overcome adversity.
  2. Still I Rise’ is an inspiring and emotional poem that’s based around Angelou’s experiences as a Black woman in America.
  3. ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is arguably one of the most moving and eye-opening poems ever written. She has written her autobiography with the same title, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
  4. ‘Phenomenal Woman’ presents Angelou’s view over her physical appearance as well as the uniqueness that separates her from other women.

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