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Praise Song For My

Grace Nichols
Background – Grace Nichols
 Grace Nichols is a Guyanese poet. She
was born in Georgetown (a small
coastal village), Guyana, in 1950. After
working in Guyana as a teacher and
journalist, she immigrated to the UK
in 1977 at the age of 27

 Much of her poetry is characterised by

Caribbean rhythms and culture, and
influenced by West Indian folklore.
She often incorporates cultural
displacement, elements/nature and
embracing diversity
Praise Song

 The Praise song originated from West

Africa. It is created to celebrate and
appreciate the life of a person.

 In this case, Nichols appears to be

celebrating the life of her mother. The
title of this poem also sets a cultural
Stanza 1
You were
water to me
deep and bold and fathoming

 “were” is in past tense. This suggests that the speaker’s mother was an
ever present figure in her life, and that now she is no longer there with
 “water” – water is a basic need for survival. Shows that her mother was
someone that was essential and surrounded her life
 The last line uses adjectives to show appreciation: “deep and bold and
fathoming” - her mother was understanding of her, had depth, was
Stanza 2
You were
moon’s eye to me
pull and grained and mantling

 “moon” – a sacred image that is a symbol for her mother, she was gentle
in nature, caring and motherly. “eye” shows that she always watched out
for her
 “pull” –the pull her mother had on her and the influence she had on her
as a child
 “grained” – reference to seeds. She has grown and has been nurtured as
a seedling in her mother’s care
 “mantling” – connotations of her mother being part of her foundation
and her life, shows stability
Stanza 3
You were
sunrise to me
rise and warm and streaming

 “sunrise” – her mother was there at the start of every new day, also
could be a reference to birth which shows how pivotal woman are
 “rise” – gave her confidence, raised her up and gave direction
 “warm” –was a temperate person, trusting, loving
 “streaming” – her love for her was unconditional, constant, always
Stanza 4
You were
the fishes red gill to me
the flame tree’s spread to me
the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell
replenishing replenishing

Go to your wide futures, you said

 “the fishes red gill” – a fish’s gill is vital for its survival; in this way her mother
was someone she always depended on
 “the flame trees spread to me” – gave her shelter and protection, also symbolizes
life and growth
 “the crabs leg/the fried plantain smell” – her mother provided her with food and
nourishment, creates a mood that is homely
 “replenishing” – gave her life, fulfilment, nurturing
You were  The first three stanzas are organized in a
water to me
deep and bold and fathoming
stair-like structure with mostly the
same number of syllables (2,4,7). The
You were uniform structure reflects stability in
moon’s eye to me childhood.
pull and grained and mantling
 The final stanza changes with an extra
You were line that interrupts the pattern – this
sunrise to me breaking down could show how the
rise and warm and streaming
speaker is at the end of childhood, and
You were
is now going into adulthood. It could
the fishes red gill to me also suggest that there has been a
the flame tree’s spread to me change in the relationship with her
the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell mother, as adulthood leads to different
replenishing replenishing
treatment and a lack of structure.
Go to your wide futures, you said
Language Features
Repetition of “You were” emphasizes how her mother was an important figure in her life by being there
every day to support her.

The metaphors that Nichols uses to describe the importance of her mother are all drawn from the
physical world – the things that surrounded her in her childhood:
‘water’, ‘moon’, ‘sunrise’, ‘fishes’, flame tree’, ‘crab’ and ‘plantain’. These can also represent the cycle of the
days, shade and sustenance, all of which are contained in the idea of motherhood. It shows that her
mother was as essential to her in her life as the moon/sun/water are to living.

Contrast between the memories of the surroundings of childhood and ‘wide futures’ at the end of the
poem helps us recognize the change the speaker has gone through from childhood through to the
transition to adulthood, becoming an independent person
 First 3 stanzas refer to past memories of the poet and the role her mother had
as she was a child which produces a reminiscent tone
The steady rhythm in these stanzas makes it relaxed to show how the poet’s
childhood was stable

 Last stanza there is a change of mood with the disruption of the steady pattern
of the poem- moves from the relaxed mood to unsteadiness and confusion.
This hints that it is the time when she steps out on her own, it is not the same
as it was before which emphasizes the importance of her mother being present
in her life.
 Childhood, Motherhood

 Realises and understands the importance of her mother’s role in her life and
that she was a positive role model for her.
 Readers may be able to appreciate the pivotal role of their own family members
in their lives too.
 The pattern of the short stanzas on the page, through shape and repetition, also
establishes the poem’s identity as a song. Nichols chose this form to reflect her
own traditional culture and her childhood, signify and emphasise her heritage
and ancestry

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