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What are the poet’s feelings about family and how does she convey these ideas?
Grace Nichols writes Praise Song for my mother as ode, or letter, as a celebration of her mother. Having moved from Guyana to the UK, the ‘ode’ is in a Caribbean style, praising her mother for all that she has done. Nichols writes about what family is, and what it means to her, and the poem seems to be positive, in adoration of her mother, but there are also other standpoints that say the poem could have a deeper, negative meaning.
Nichols conveys the powerful, protective love that she receives from her mother in the poem in a variety of ways. She writes that she was ‘water to [her], deep and bold and fathoming’. As water is a necessity to live, she creates the image that her mother was a necessity to her life, and that she ‘couldn’t live without her’. She uses many of these metaphors, using the term ‘You were’ to convey the different roles her mother played in her life, that although she was just a woman, she was to her, the ‘moon’s eye’ and the ‘sunrise’.
The use of the past tense in ‘you were’ shows that her mother may have passed away, and that this is not only a celebration of her mother, but also a celebration of her mother’s life, and that the poem is a sort of mourning of her mother. However, this can also be interpreted as the memories of her childhood, when she lived in Guyana with her family, written in the past tense, to convey her feelings in the past. The fact that this poem is written in 14 lines, as a sonnet, shows the ode of love from Nichols to her mother, and the loving bond in family.
Nichols could also be trying to convey the message that family is about growing, and allowing the children to develop and learn. Although this at first sight, a poem of positivity, and ‘praise’ for her mother, there could be a more negative, possibly sarcastic side to the poem. The phrase ‘you were water to me’ initially seems positive, but when paired with ‘deep and bold and fathoming’, makes the reader think that there was possible ‘too much water’, and that Nichols’ mother was possibly overprotective or that she enveloped Nichols in her care. The words ‘deep’ and ‘bold’ make you think of the ocean, and possibly that she was drowning in it. In addition, Nichols writes ‘go to your wide futures, you said’. This initially strikes the reader as a message of hope from Nichols’ mother, that she wanted her children to go out into the world and grow. The fact that ‘futures’ is plural, shows that there is essentially a ‘world of oppurtunities’ available, rather than a controlled, decided future.
However, this may have been written as a sarcastic ‘you said’, showing that Nichols’ mother expected too much of them, and that life is actually much harder than going ‘out to your wide futures’. This resentment may be a product of Nichols’ mother being overprotective, and not allowing her to learn on her own, and being overprotective. It may also mean that her mother may have essentially abandoned her, and left her to her own actions after she left to England. However, given the circumstances, it is most likely written as possibly a memory of the last thing her mother said to her, before passing away, or before their relationship became too distant. In this way, there are many differing interpretations for this message.
Nichols seems to be conveying the message that family is a sort of nutrition, or nourishment. She uses lots of metaphorical language such as ‘You were water’ and ‘you were sunrise’ to make family seem like a very positive factor. She also writes ‘the fried plantain smell replenishing replenishing’, with the repetition of ‘replenishing’ making the reader focus on the word. The lack of punctuation in the phrase, and also the lack of punctuation throughout the whole poem possible harks back to Nichols’ less educated childhood.
The words ‘replenishing’, ‘water’ and ‘sunrise’ creates the image of the mother fulfilling all the bare necessities for the Nichols’, and shows the different roles that Nichols’ mother played in her life. The poem itself is very orderly for the first three stanzas, with same sized lines, but the fourth stanza is one line longer, this line being longer still, and then the fifth stanza being one line only. This poem could possibly portray a ladder or staircase, symbolising the ‘steps’ to adulthood and success. As the poem is about Nichols’ mother, this could be creating the image that her mother was the aid to her success. This is all the picture of how family is a sort of nutrition and aid to life.
Overall, Grace Nichols provides many different standpoints on the importance of family in ‘Praise Song for my Mother’. Although it is written as a positive poem of ‘celebration’ of her mother, there could also be more negative standpoints and alternative views, highlighting possible sarcasm in the poem. In conclusion, Nichols seems to generally have very positive views on family and uses lots of metaphorical language to create the image that her mother was ‘everything’ to her’. She also uses literary techniques to showcase her memories of childhood, and the importance of family in her upbringing.