Resignation by Nikki Giovanni is a love poem, with the poet quantifying the love for her child in terms of the natural order of things. The poem is relentless in its form, ‘I love you’ arriving at the beginning of stanzas and then explaining why she does. The tone of the poem is happy, with Giovanni enjoying loving and caring for her child.
Resignation by Nikki Giovanni quantifies her love for her child. While it could simply be about a lover, I argue that the unconscious pull of love ‘determined’ suggests a motherly bond. The poem begins with ‘I love you’, and continues by examining why she has this emotion. The first stanza focuses on the ‘natural order of things’, the seasons and weather all flowing just because they must – a comparison Giovanni draws to her state of love. The second stanza focuses on the habits Giovanni has built throughout her life, with love slipping into her life and staying. The third stanza focuses on how happy Giovanni is to be in love, idolising her child’s voice and how their presence makes her feel. The fourth stanza explores the safety a relationship provides, Giovanni enjoying waking up and finding her child there in the morning. The final stanza discusses how they met, with the baby seeing Giovanni and ‘decided that I [Giovanni] would love you’, relating to the natural order of loving your child, and how Giovanni’s whole life has changed because of it.
Resignation is structured around the repeated phrase ‘I love you’. It provides a central focus for the poem, appearing as the most important aspect of the poem. This is a poem of familial love, with Giovanni quantifying her love after repeating the phrase. There are five stanzas within the poem, each of differing lengths. There is no rhyme scheme, nor a consistent syllable count for each line. The free-verse form of the poem reflects Giovanni’s excitement, words flowing on the page quickly as a reflection of her uncontainable love. The form engenders this excitement, quickly moving through ideas in different structures as if Giovanni herself were rushing through the reasons she feels so much love.
You can read the full poem here.
The title reflects Giovanni’s state of resigning everything in her life in devotion to her child, a beautiful form of sacrificial love. The child becomes a focus of her life, Giovanni putting everything on hold for this pure love.
One could argue that the word Resignation also carries a hint of disappointment, with Giovanni perhaps being slightly annoyed at herself for giving up so much of who she is to love this child completely. Yet, I would argue that this is a happy resignation, with Giovanni taking pride in being a mother and loving her child completely. In an interview for PoetryFoundation, Giovanni has been quoted saying she takes pride in being a “Black American, a daughter, mother, and a Professor of English”. It is not a resignation in giving up, it is allowing herself to give her emotions completely to loving her child.
Resignation begins by stating the core concern of the poem, ‘I love you’ echoing here and throughout the rest of the narrative. Giovanni then moves into answering the question of ‘why’ she loves her child so much.
Giovanni begins with aspects of nature, ‘the Earth turns round the sun’ and ‘because the North wind blows’ both presenting grand cosmic elements of the world, relating the strength of her love to these immense concepts. After this, Giovanni moves into aspects of humanity, examining the strength of belief in religions, then applying this to the strength of which she loves her child. After this, Giovanni returns to the ‘national order of things’, relating her love to forces like ‘gravity’. In all these images, there is a balance of intensity and naturalism. Giovanni is suggesting that her love is as powerful as the pillars which hold the world together, while also insinuating it is something natural and beautiful. This relates to the idea of a mother’s love, that unconditional pull being reflected through Giovanni’s poetry.
This stanza focuses on habits of Giovanni’s life, and how she has developed as her life has gone on. Habits such as ‘sleeping through lectures…take my coffee black… milk with chocolate’ are things that have held as constants within Giovanni’s life. By examining these practices which have become autonomous within her life, she suggests that the love she holds for her child is a part of who she is – it does not define her, but it makes up a part of her definition. Giovanni’s exploration of familial love is beautiful, with the poet drawing upon fundamentals of identity to explore her love.
Giovanni is ‘helpless/in my love for you’, the unconditional love she feels being something she cannot be separated from. This is something that makes the poet ‘so happy’, the human connection she has formed lighting up her days, even at the slightest thing such as ‘hear[ing] you call my name’. Giovanni is completely devoted to her child, ‘its been so good for so long’.
The very simplicity of love, ‘its so simple’ is something that Giovanni enjoys, how naturally it began and continued. Although they are not exactly the same, mother and child, ‘no two slowflakes are alike’, she enjoys their subtle differences, being cut from the same cloth but in different shapes.
Having her child also gives her life a sense of stability, ‘I wake up in the morning and find you there’ making Giovanni incredibly happy. There is a constant in her life, one that she nurtures and loves.
The final stanza of the poem measures twelve lines and contains ‘I love you’ nine times. Giovanni is coming to a poetic climax, exploring exactly how much she loves her child. Although having a child is a burden on ‘freedom, my commitments’, she ‘love you more than I love my privacy’ and all these things. The love she has for her child transcends anything she has had before. The final line represents the overwhelming sense of love, ‘I love you I love you I love you’ concluding the poem with a harmonious repetition, emphasizing the poet’s complete Resignation of everything over to caring for her child.