Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Over the white seas
rime white and cold
- The immediate interjection of "white" seas forms a contrast to the "black" land – making it possible that changes (and, well, problems) are on the horizon.
- It's interesting to note that Angelou doesn't ever refer to the people who perpetrate the crimes of slavery. It's only the seas that are white. It's almost like nature itself is attacking the land.
- Once we get around to lines 11 and 12, though, it's clear that intruders are on the horizon. Angelou's speaker isn't lulled into complacence by the arrival of these strangers, though. She's quick to point out the cold (even icicle-like) quality of their arrival.
- In case you were wondering, the "brigands" our speaker describes are probably boats – the boats that arrive on the African continent to carry slaves to the New World. We're not big gamblers, but even we feel pretty safe saying that this new development probably isn't a good one.
took her young daughters
sold her strong sons
- Notice how Angelou chooses to describe the kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans in generational terms? Africa isn't just losing her present, she's losing her future. After all, without daughter and sons, how do you get granddaughters and grandsons?
churched her with Jesus
bled her with guns.
- We've got to admit, we're pretty blown away by these lines. After all, anyone who feels like they can make up verbs and get away with it is probably worth watching. And Angelou is certainly getting away with it here!
- Sure, "church" is a word, but it's a noun. Have you ever heard of the verb "to church"? We haven't, either.
- Why would Angelou choose to make up this word? After all, she could easily have written a line that went something like "brought churches and Jesus." That would convey the same point and fit within the rules set by the fine folks at Merriam-Webster, right?
- One of the powerful things about these lines, however, is the sense of violent action inflicted upon Africa. If you look at the way the two lines are structured, some pretty incredible parallels arise: "churched" and "bled" share the same verb-space – which also makes "Jesus" and "guns" structurally equivalent. It sets up the possibility that the speaker sees the two as harmful in the same way.
Thus she has lain.
- This is one of the strangest lines of the poem. Yes, we know, we've seen it before, so what's so weird about seeing it again? Well, for one thing, it's not the eighth line in the stanza. It's the ninth line. (If you haven't already checked out our "Form and Meter" section, do! We'll talk lots more about how this formal irregularity throws off our sense of balance and rhythm.)
- This line sticks out like a sore thumb. Does it express our speaker's resignation? Her anger? Her sense of irony? It's hard to tell. After all, it could be a way to express sorrow at the fact that Africa's timeless survival seems to be the only weapon in its arsenal. Or the speaker could be noting her frustration at the fact that Africa seems to keep taking all the hits that the rest of the world is throwing its way. Without any more explanation, it's hard to tell.