The concept of beauty is the thematic preoccupation of Leopold Sedar Senghor’s Black Woman. The poem revolves round the subject of beauty. In the poem, there is a paradigm shift in the representation of beauty.
Black Woman redefines the concept of beauty. Africa had been under the captivity of Europeans for more than three centuries. As a result, Africans have accepted a lot of European ideals; using these as their benchmark. Thus, beauty is epitomised by white ladies as praised in their poems.
Black Woman is a clear departure from this Europe-induced view. The poem explores the theme of beauty in the figure of a black or otherwise dark woman. It posits that black women are as beautiful as their white counterparts and even suggestively more beautiful.
The poem praises the African beauty and places it on a par with the best European poets’ portrayal of the white woman’s beauty. The poem also recognises the beauty in the black skin or colour. Before (and even now), a lot of African ladies bleached their skin, trying to be fair/white, because of the initial impression that fairness/whiteness was/is the definition of beauty. Leopold Sedar Senghor is of contrary opinion as voiced in his poem.
To him, black is beautiful and this is evident in his description of the smoothness of the black woman’s skin and its sparkling texture. His various comparisons which include “gazelle limbed in paradise”, firm-fleshed ripe fruit”, and “oil that no breath ruffles” hint at the perfection of the black woman’s beauty.
At its tail end, the poem hints at human mortality which also applies to beauty. Beauty is ephemeral just like the human existence. That explains why the poet persona fixes the woman’s current beautiful form “in the eternal” where “jealous Fate” cannot reach.
As typical of negritude poems, Black Woman asserts the African culture and norms. In deviance of the French assimilation policy, the poem celebrates African values as premised on its adoration of the African beauty.
La Negritude (also Negritude Movement) was founded by Leopold Sedar Senghor, Aime Cesaire and Leon Contran Damas in the early 1930s. The trio (also known as les trios peres – the three fathers) met while living in Paris. It refers to “the fact of being of black African descent, especially a conscious pride in the values, cultural identity etc. of African heritage; blackness.” (Wikitionary)
Apparently, the poem takes conscious pride in black African woman’s beauty and is therefore a negritude poem.