Study Guide

A Poem for My Librarian, Mrs. Long Innocence

By Nikki Giovanni

Innocence

At a time when there was not tv before 3:00 P.M.
And on Sunday none until 5:00
We sat on the front porches watching
The jfg sign go on and off greeting
The neighbors (1-5)

We get a strong sense of happy nostalgia in the first few lines, as the poet speaks of a time with less distraction and lots of simple, civil interaction with neighbors.

There was a bookstore uptown on gay street
Which I visited and inhaled that wonderful odor
Of new books (17-18)

In some ways, this poem is a coming-of-age piece. Giovanni reflects on those wonderful experiences that shaped her adult habits in the years to come.

I listened
Late at night with my portable (that I was so proud of)
Tucked under my pillow (10-12)

This lovely memory of a childhood moment—when the poet could be so proud of a simple possession—helps us understand her fondness for the place and time.

But she nonetheless brought the books
Back and I held them to my chest
Close to my heart
And happily skipped back to grandmother's house (33-36)

In the previous two stanzas, Giovanni speaks of the racism that Mrs. Long had to brave in order to get books for her to read. But all of that unpleasantness evaporates and we see a happy girl, totally unaware of any trials, skipping down the street. It doesn't seem possible that a girl who can read philosophy would be young enough to skip home. Perhaps Giovanni exaggerates her youth here to emphasize her innocent outlook on the world.

I loved the world where I was
I was safe and warm and grandmother gave me neck kisses
When I was on my way to bed (40-42)

If you are wondering how the young poet really felt about her life in Knoxville, there you have it. There is no sense of anything but love, kindness, and safety in her life, despite what was going on in the world outside. Kudos to Mrs. Long and grandma for creating such a web of happiness.

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