Tenebris Essay

In Angelina Weld Grimke’s poem “Tenebris” the reader is allowed embark on an imaginative journey of, perhaps, the speakers private or personal life, publicly so. This poem conceptualizes a tree as a black body or being, which is chipping away at the fear of miscegenation in dominate white society. The integration of races plays a huge role in this work as in others because the writer is bi-racial and constantly has to deal with the critique of others and their racial politics.

The poem’s imaginative imagery embarks through a mystical world of shadows, by day and night, which further speaks of the racial divide that go beyond the words written on the page. “Tenebris” which is Latin for darkness, seems as if it is a gloomy poem that which has an undertone of the white fear of darkness. The writer cleverly depicts the quiet struggle of the black body for white acceptance; even if it isn’t sought, it will come. “Tenebris” yearns for equally, secretly. Grimke’ writes of this sly, unspoken political and social fantasy through the darkness: There is a tree by day

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That at night Has a shadow, A hand huge and black, With fingers long and black. In this stanza, the expression of a tree is not just a tree. The symbol of the tree alludes to the history of slavery and its connection with violence to black bodies. The tree’s “shadow” is a shadow of slavery or of lynched bodies dangling from trees. This reader wondered if the shade that and protection the tree offers during the day can even then really be safe or is safety and security an illusion.

When a black hand emerges from the tree, during the night, the reader can visualize the connection of lynching and/or possibly reaching out for help because of senseless violence. It seems as if the tree’s shadow is a black hand, or maybe the apparition of former slaves. The poem continues to demonstrate how this huge black hand is actually quite small against white society, yet the “fingers long and black” will continue to chip “All through the dark, Against the white man’s house”. The previous two lines illustrate that blacks constantly attempt to penetrate the society of whites.


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