Prayer to Masks by Leopold Sedar Senghor – A Poem Analysis

The poem was published during the end of World War II, the same period when some of the European colonial empires ended.

The first five lines reveal that the speaker is inside a place filled with masks of varying colors.  The markless (and dimple-free and wrinkle-free) faces stand for the speaker’s dead ancestors.  The place is holy as suggested by the phrase “closed to any feminine laughter, to any mortal smile,” two images that belong to the material world.  This idea is reinforced by the place’s “purity of the air” in line 6 and the “altar” in line 8.

The writer uses apostrophe, a figure of speech in which an imaginary person or an inanimate entity is addressed directly. The speaker addresses the masks in a prayer-like manner.  He/she calls upon them to “fix their immobile eyes upon their children” so that “these children may cry at the rebirth of the world.” 

To the Europeans, the Africans are “cotton heads,” “coffee men,” “oily men” and “men of death.”  The way lines 18 and 19 are expressed by the speaker suggests lowliness (”They call us cotton heads, and coffee men, and oily men, They call us men of death”).   But to the speaker, their identity is rooted on the elegance of their dance, the rhythm of their music and the richness of their land. 

Now that they are free from colonial power – Africa is connected with Europe through the navel –  they have to learn to be on their own again and to regain what they lost.  Some of their old ways were replaced by modern technology.  Some of their traditions are gone and were sacrificed in order to accommodate the colonizer’s culture.  But they can make their culture stay by hanging on to the old ways left by their ancestors.  They can do it especially that they recognize their significance and what they can give as a nation.  According to the speaker, they are “the leaven that the white flour needs.”

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Rhodora Bande also writes at WARAYBLOGGER.com

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19 Comments
  1. Posted December 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    A note to my friends: I originally included the text of the poem before my write-up but it was disapproved for duplicate content. Below is a link to the poem:

    http://www.hu.mtu.edu/~dshoos/HU3262/Negritudepoems.htm

    Thank you for dropping by.

  2. Posted December 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    thanks for the article and the link to the poem.

  3. Posted December 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    A good analysis of that poem.

  4. Posted December 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks for the review. The poem is interesting.

  5. Posted December 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Sis, this could pass for an excellent paper on English Lit. Baka may estudyanteng mag-plagiarize nito. lol. You must have delved into deep thought to come up with this superb analysis.

  6. Posted December 18, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Great analysis..you’re good at it..:)

    Great share..:)

  7. Posted December 18, 2010 at 1:19 am

    An excellent analysis. One must really have an understanding of Africa’s history and culture to appreciate this poem. The last 4 lines tell me that one must not forget his identity for that is where he is rooted. Being colonized may take away one’s freedom. But to forget one’s identity would be the real death.

  8. Posted December 18, 2010 at 2:27 am

    The poem is new to me. Wonderful analysis and sharing. Thanks!

  9. Posted December 18, 2010 at 3:23 am

    Wonderful analysis,Great.

  10. Posted December 18, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Great review Rhodora. Western progress is good but the African heartbeat is what makes Africa.

  11. Posted December 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

    thanks for sharing the poem and explaining it at the same time! galing ni ma’am!

  12. Posted December 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    A very impressive article here friend!

  13. Posted December 19, 2010 at 10:11 am

    A nice share buddy

  14. Posted December 20, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Good Post.

  15. Posted December 21, 2010 at 12:39 am

    A well conducted analysis. It’s sad to forget one’s traditions just to accommodate other’s culture especially if it’s of colonizer’s. The traditions and cultures of one’s country are the true depicter of one’s identity.

  16. Posted December 21, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Nice Share.

    :-)

  17. Posted December 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Great review, RB. It takes a good writer to be able to do an
    in-depth analysis of the poem. Kudos :-)

  18. Posted June 21, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    This is a very well-researched critical review. I like it. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Lamech Bwomah
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Exellent review, RB.

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