Maureen Honey: On "The Black Finger"

The use of trees in these poems is common, for trees are stationary, as women are immobilized by confining roles. Symbolic of paralysis, they can nevertheless be viewed positively. In Grimké's "The Black Finger," a tree's silhouette is highlighted by sunset: "I have just seen a most beautiful thing: / Slim and still, / Against a gold, gold sky A straight, black cypress / Sensitive / Exquisite / A black finger / Pointing upwards." Leading the eye toward a vast, open space where the soul can soar, the tree in this poem can, in some sense, stand for the miraculous survival of Black aspiration as the poet ends by asking: "Why, beautiful still finger, are you black? / And why are you pointing upwards?" Helene Johnson employs the same metaphor in "'Trees at Night" where she draws an image of vibrant wonder crystallized by the interplay of light and shadow on a moonlit night: "Slim sentinels / Stretching lacy arms / About a slumbrous moon; / Black quivering / Silhouettes, / Tremulous, / . . . And printed 'gainst the sky-- / The trembling beauty / Of an urgent pine." It is the silhouette of the tree that attracts the poet's eye, the intricate pattern of branches against a sky, the stillness of a solid trunk anchored by sure roots and pushing against the force of gravity. The trunk's rich brownness is starkly highlighted in silhouette, devoid of obscuring foliage and beautiful in its hardy survival of harsh conditions. The poetic tree transcends its condition of immobility to stand for quiet endurance, pride, dignity, and aspiration. Like women, it has a delicate beauty under the toughness that enables it to survive.


Criticism Overview
Title Maureen Honey: On "The Black Finger" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Maureen Honey Criticism Target Angelina Weld Grimké
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance
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