An Analysis Of ‘In My Name’ By Grace Nichols

Heavy with child
belly
an arc
of black moon
I squat over
dry plantain leaves
and command the earth
to receive you
in my name
in my blood
to receive you
my curled bean
my tainted
perfect child
my bastard fruit
my seedling
my sea grape
my strange mullato
my little bloodling
Let the snake slipping in deep grass
be dumb before you
Let the centipede writhe and shrivel
in its tracks
Let the evil one strangle on his own tongue
even as he sets his eyes upon you
For with my blood
I have cleansed you
and with my tears
I’ve pooled the river Niger
now my sweet one it is for you to swim
Grace Nichols

This compelling piece written by Grace Nichols deals with a variety of different themes such as freedom and motherhood. This blog post will explore these two themes to the poem. To begin with, an exploration of what the poem is about will be made. Then, the poetic devises will be analysed along with the poetic structure and the message of the poem.

What is this poem about?

To me, this poem is about a slave woman who gave birth to a child. A ‘mullato’ which is a term referring to children with white and black ancestry. We can infer that this child is a ‘bastard’ which illustrates how the child was not born to the woman’s husband but perhaps to a slave master. To further support this interpretation, we can deduce that the child may be born on a plantation field or in a similar surrounding where there are ‘dry plantain leaves’ for the mother to squat over and give birth.

Despite the harsh conditions in which the child is born, we can infer a mother’s prayer for the child’s safety. She prays the following:

  • Let the snake slipping in deep grass
    be dumb before you
  • Let the centipede writhe and shrivel
    in its tracks
  • Let the evil one strangle on his own tongue
    even as he sets his eyes upon you

This is a prayer because of the use of the word ‘let’ which helps her forbid the conditions that her child may go through. These phrases can be taken as literal events which the child could go through or a figurative speech of the harms and dangers in the world in which a mother doesn’t want their child to go through. The use of the repetition helps emphasise the mother’s awareness of the cruelty of the world.

Structure

This poem is written as a free verse which means that it doesn’t follow a particular rhyming pattern or stanza structure. This poem is written as a free verse to illustrate that the woman is free to be herself with her child. This is the only moment in which she experiences freedom. Alternatively, it could be seen as an irony in her situation where she may never experience freedom and the poem is her freedom.

Poetic Devices

Repetition: The use of repetition such as ‘my bastard fruit/my seedling/my sea grape/my strange mullato/ my little bloodling’ helps illustrate the negative, neutral and endearing feeling all simultaneously in which the mother feels about the child.  We are aware of the conditions in which the child is born, therefore, this repetition materialises all her feeling in one short stanza.

Alliteration:  In the beginning of the poem the use of alliteration in the line ‘belly…an arc
of black moon’. This alliteration helps consolidate the beautiful imagery of pregnancy and the ‘b’ sound helps illustrate how brave the woman is.

Message

This poem helps illustrate that a mother’s nurture, guidance and prayer can take you to a certain point. At that point, there will be a moment in time where it is ‘for you to swim’ even if your mothers efforts, hardships and guidance has  ‘pooled’ the ‘tears’.

Thank you very much for reading.

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