“Tomorrow’s Daughters” is a beautiful feminist poem by the famous South African author and performance poet, Lebogang Mashile. She is known to use poetry as a medium to spread her views on gender issues and women empowerment. Dealing with the themes of women empowerment, race and the power of change, Tomorrow’s Daughters embodies within itself a message of change and becomes the voice of the present engaging with the experiences of the past, in order to encourage and empower the future.
The tone of the poem is powerful and full of hope. The poet strongly urges women, especially women of color, to exert their independence and soar high in the free sky without any fetters holding them back.
Tomorrow’s Daughters | Summary
Mashile begins the poem by expressing her desire to compose a poem about women, particularly black women. These women are strong and fearless, and do not give up on their aspirations under any circumstances. They do not “relax and lie their dreams away” but instead work hard to fulfil their dreams and toil tirelessly towards their ambitious goals. They dare to choose the path less travelled and in doing so change the course of history. Their accomplishments reshape all conventions, especially those associated with women. They redefine gender roles and prove that women are capable of doing everything and end up “turning the world kinky”. Determined and focused, these “pretty black girls” bring forth a revolution in an organized manner without resorting to hostility and violence at any point.
The poet then addresses the figure of Emily Dickinson, the famous American poet who, despite leading a secluded life, went on to become one of the most important figures in American poetry. Mashile believes that Dickinson is one of those “silent screamers” who changed society’s perception regarding women. Having spent most of her life in isolation, Dickinson led an unconventional lifestyle, often being regarded as an “eccentric” by society. Her poems were quite a departure from the usual. Most of her poems reflect her inner musings and reflections upon the world she lived in and express life as seen through her eyes. Despite having negligible social life and exposure in life, the themes and thoughts seen in her poems are universal.
The poet has immense respect and admiration for women like her, almost to the point of being hurt by this adulation and believes that Dickinson might’ve done the same. However, she requests Dickinson not to turn her away when she enters her “hallowed hearth and let her in and make her privy to the inner strength that fueled her spirit and gave her the strength to maintain her individuality, against all odds and despite not being accepted by the society.
She seeks to inspire all the “pretty black girls” through her example and wants to show them how, like her, they too can follow their hearts, without any care of what people say. They should express themselves without any fear, shouting their tales of triumph for the entire world to hear. If all the women stand together, having each other’s backs, there is nothing that they cannot accomplish. Through the support of their fellows, women can bring about a drastic change in the way society sees them and emerge as queens that are capable of ruling the entire world.
Tomorrow’s Daughters | Analysis
This powerful poem beautifully expresses Lebogang Mashile’s belief in the strength and abilities of women, especially the African women who have suffered oppression at the hands of the patriarchal society since ages, with racism adding to their suppression. The poet seeks to inspire these women to break free from all shackles and realize their true potential. She has full faith in the power of women, especially if they stand united against the adversities that obstruct their road to independence, helping each other in realizing their potential and making a mark in the world. She hopes for a future where there is no distinction between men and women, and between women of different colour, and motivates all women to work towards realizing this dream.
The poem is written in free- verse, without any specific rhyme scheme. The idea of freedom in the content of the poem is also embodied in its form. As is seen in most of her poems, there is hardly any use of punctuation in this one as well. The language used is simple and easy to understand but through her thoughtful choice of words, Mashile manages to make an impact.
Tomorrow’s Daughters | Analysis (Lines 1 – 7)
I want to write a poem
About pretty black girls
Who don’t relax and lie their dreams away
Voices that curl
The straight edges of history
Hair thin slices of a movement
Turning the world kinky
The poet talks of her desire to write a poem about “pretty black girls”. Immediately, the themes of gender and race is introduced in the poem. The girls are not complacent about the status quo – both of gender and race. They “don’t relax and lie their dreams away”. Notice the use of pun in the word “lie”. Not only do they not take things lying down, they also question the simplified version of history, a large part of which is a set lies perpetuated by the powerful against the oppressed. This applies to both gender as well as race. Thus, the pretty black girls’ voices “curl the straight edges of history” and their hair thin slices of movement have the power of “turning the world kinky”. An acceptance of different gender orientations which challenges the gender binary construct is seen in this line. Notice the imagery of movement – of not relaxing, lying, of curling and hair-thin slices of movement. The very diction of the poem encourages movement and challenges it opposite – stasis. This is a significant point, as movement is prerequisite to change, an important theme with which the poem ends. Metaphors such as in “hair thin slices of movement”, “voices that curl the straight edges of history” add both power and beauty to the opening portion of the poem.
Tomorrow’s Daughters | Analysis (Lines 8 -21)
I respect the disciplined silent screamers
Who expose the holes
Emily Dickinson, I am climbing through
To your wooden shed of isolation
Where the robin’s song
Robbed you of your sanity
I revere people to my own detriment
Perhaps you did too
But when I enter your hallowed hearth
Please don’t turn me away
I want to show pretty black girls
How to look at their hearts
With eyes blaring at full blast
The way you did
The poet then says that she respects the “disciplined silent screamers” who expose holes in history, like the poet Emily Dickinson. The oxymoron (silent screamers) is qualified by another word – disciplined. This underlines the importance of control which goes into the making of a silent screamer who can change the world. It isn’t an impulsive, emotional response to the status quo that will bring change but a deliberate ad determined response that will achieve the feat. And this will require a great degree of discipline. Dickinson was literally a “silent screamer”, as a majority of her poems were published only after her death. When alive, she largely remained unnoticed outside of a small circle of readers, despite writing a great volume of poetry. The story of this silent screamer whose poems were posthumously may be read here.
She addresses Emily Dickinson, and makes use of a potent metaphor by saying that she’s climbing through her “wooden shed of isolation”. This metaphor alludes to the fact that Dickinson led an unconventional lifestyle, often being regarded as an “eccentric” by society. Her poems were quite a departure from the ordinary and dealt with both the themes of despair and hope. The allusion to the robin song takes one back to the use of bird imagery in Dickinson’s poems. Here’s an example of one such poem. Robin was one such bird that features in many of her poems and often stood as a symbol for the Spring, a season of hope and change. It is only apt that robin should feature in this poem which is also about hope and change
The poet says that she harbors immense respect and admiration for women like Dickinson, to the point of being hurt by this adulation. Perhaps Dickinson did the same. However, she requests Dickinson not to turn her away when she enters her “hallowed hearth”. While being united in their voices of womanhood and poetry, there exists a factor that separates the two – that of race. Here, it must be noted that the idea of women empowerment and women equality was marked by the differential treatment meted out to them in terms of race, especially in the Western world. The narrative of gender equality unfortunately took quite a long time to include women of color. It is perhaps an allusion to this fact that is encapsulated in the poet’s request to Dickinson not to turn her away when she enters the “hallowed hearth”. The emphasis is made greater by the use of an alliteration.
She seeks to inspire all the “pretty black girls” through her example and wants to show them how, like Dickinson, they too can follow their hearts in a bold and assertive manner and shape the world in their terms.
Tomorrow’s Daughters | Analysis (Lines 21 – 26)
Together we can build a bridge
To the promise in their faces
And pull them towards poems
By pretty black girls
Wearing crowns of change
The poet believes that together they can build a bridge and draw the pretty black girls towards poems by pretty black girls wearing crowns of change. These lines emphasize on the unity of womanhood, of the coming together of womankind in order to empower one another. The gaps existing between women of different color may be bridged by drawing pretty black girls towards the poetry created by themselves as they stand tall and proud, wearing “crowns of change”.
Tomorrow’s Daughters | Literary Devices
Repetition – The phrase pretty black girls (Line 2, 18, 25) has been used repetitively to emphasise, encourage and empower the intended audience.
Metaphor – wooden shed of isolation, hallowed hearth and crowns of change. (Line 11,16 & 25)
Oxymoron – silent screamers (Line 8)
Symbolism – The use of robin in line 11.
Alliteration – hallowed hearth (Line 16)