blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

On "To a Dark Girl"


Nina Miller

In the high renaissance year of 1927, Bennett circled back on the Brown Girl in what we might well see as an obligatory paean to this most essential figure of renaissance aesthetics. "To a Dark Girl" seems more or less to conform to its generic type, rendering the historical body of the race through the admiring scrutiny of her bourgeois explainer.

I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast;
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk,
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

But if this speaker engages in the usual projections, she also manages finally to suggest that the "dark girl" might herself be the subject of history:

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow's mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

In thus granting the Brown Girl an unmediated relation to fate here in this most critical context of bourgeois African American self-understanding, Bennett gestures toward the sort of democratic decentering that constitutes her chief contribution to renaissance poetry.

from Making Love Modern: The Intimate Public Worlds of New York's Literary Women. New York: Oxford UP, 1998. Copyright 1998 by Oxford UP.


Return to Gwendolyn Bennett