Praise Song For My Mother
by Grace Nicholls
Am I able to explain how language, structure
and form contribute to the writer Grace
Nicholls’ presentation of ideas, themes and
Grace Nicholls is Guyanese (located in S. America but
identified as West Indian) and only moved to the UK when
she was in her mid-20s.
Her poetry reflects her Caribbean traditions
through sensory language.
Her heritage is an important part of her poetry.
Guyana was a former
British colony until
The entire poem resembles a staircase
First 3 stanzas have 3 lines each – balanced
- reflecting on her stable relationship
4th stanza begins in the same way but is
extended, focusing on the final line.
The last line shows the daughter detaching from her mother and
launching into adulthood – moving toward ‘wide futures’.
Answer in your book: What do you think the
‘staircase shape’ of the poem is a metaphor for?
Written in the past tense
shows us she is reflecting, looking back on the influence
of her mother (deceased… or have they grown apart)
First 3 stanzas end with a line that shows her mother’s
Uses metaphors and natural imagery
Influence of her Caribbean upbringing (sunrise, warmth)
`moon, water and sun` are constant, natural rhythms of
the earth = stability of her mother.
Uses active verbs
She remembers her mother as always doing things
Language & Imagery
Uncertainty about her relationship with her mum
Nourishment (physical & spiritual)
Celebratory (it is a praise song, after all!)
Natural rhythms of the earth – basic elements like water,
Line by line analysis next!
Is her mother deceased or has her mother`s influence decreased?
water to me
Elemental; necessary in literature: represents fluidity; rebirth;
survival; a journey
deep and bold and fathoming
Not necessarily a compliment…
did her mother have a strong personality?
Many meanings: brave or even over-bearing?
Intellectual depth (clever)
A serious personality
Long-lasting & strongly felt (lasting impact)
Depth (being in the `deep end`)
A fathom is a unit
of measure for
water – 6ft deep.
Mum was tall?
To fathom (verb)
is to make sense
Was her mother
hard to read?
You were repetition; pattern – reflects stability
Moon goddess Yemoja from West African Yaruba
religion; represents the reign over all as a mother
Nicholls is referring to her mother as the matriarch.
moon’s eye to me
always there at night
Watching from above
pull and grained and mantling
Gravitational pull Grew from her mother like a seedling… Earth’s mantle shelters
of the moon or is she ‘going against the grain’ the inner core of world.
Moon/ocean pull – of her mother? Referring to mum’s
natural rhythms again! protection or being over-bearing?
sunrise to me
Always there at the start of every day
rise and warm and streaming
Mum was there to … temperate personality flowing, gushing
- Wake her up did she grow to like mum? (of tears?)
- to motivate her to move Constant outpouring
upwards/better herself of orders possibly.
- To get a rise out of someone
Answer in your book: Nicholls has deliberately chosen
ambiguous language to describe her relationship with her
mother. So far, do you think this poem is more praising or
more criticising? Why?
You were simple repetition of this at each stanza mimics a song (link to title)
the fishes red gill to me
fish out of water; cultural displacement
Red fish is essential part of Caribbean diet
Also: the gills are essential to breathing – in water (link back to natural imagery)
The very breath of Nicholls’ life is linked to her mother
the flame tree’s spread to me
Caribbean/West African tree; its shape provides a ‘spread’
Nicholls felt both protected and sheltered/stifled by her mum’s love…
Or does she mean ‘family tree’ HAS spread to me?
Has she taken on her mum’s traits?
Should be a possessive apostrophe; does she feel she
does not belong to her mother?
the crab’s leg/the fried plantain smell
Traditional C. food – Nicholls can smell her mother’s cooking;
perhaps now she has already left to UK – smell is sense most
strongly tied to memory.
D I S T A N C E between last line
Nicholls moves from Guyana to UK, leaves her mother behind.
This kind of pause is called a caesura (say-zhura)
Nicholls is thinking of the best way to sum of her
complicated relationship with her mum.
Mother’s love is endless –
links back to the sun rising
every morning to replenish
the earth… too much?
Go to your wide futures, you said
does her mum think her dreams are too big?
Is this the last thing her mum said to her before Nicholls
left for the UK?
- Bitter, dismissive, passive-aggressive.
Answer in your book: Thinking about the title ‘Praise
Song for My Mother”, explain how this poem could be
considered an anti-praise or backhanded praise song?
Think about ambiguity…
Homework for “Harmonium”
Write 3 P-E-E paragraphs showing how
Armitage uses metaphor,
personification and symbols/imagery in
his poem to describe his relationship
between him and his father?
On Learning Gateway
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