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She tries her tongue, her silence softly breaks- M N Philip- Poem Summary

Updated: Jul 21, 2023


She tries her tongue, her silence softly breaks is a poem in the collection of poetry with the same title published in 1986 by M. Naubese Philip. This poetry book is the most renounced of her works which were awarded the Casa de las Americas prize for literature, while still in the manuscript form. The poems in this collection explore the problem of language in the case of women of the African Diaspora. The title of this collection is from John Dryden’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis (Book-I, ‘The transformation of Syrinx into Reeds’). This collection retells the Persephone myth from a Caribbean perspective.


All Things are altere’d nothing is destroyed

Ovid, The Metamorphoses (tr. Dryden)

the me and mine of parents

the we and us of brother and sister

the tribe of belongings small and separate,

when gone…

on these exact places of exacted grief

i placed mint-fresh grief coins

scaled the eyes with certain and final;

in such an equation of loss tears became

a quality of minus.

with the fate of a slingshot stone

loosed from the catapult pronged double with history

and time on a trajectory of hurl and fling

to a state active with without and unknown

i come upon a future biblical with anticipation.

POEM SUMMARY: She tries her tongue, her silence softly breaks

The poet expresses her colonial experiences in this poem. The pain of a migrant is exquisitely portrayed in this poem. At first, she mentions herself, her family, her tribe, and their small possessions which they lose all at once. The poet expresses the pain of leaving their origin, their native place. Though they leave the place it cannot be forgotten. At this place, the poet says ‘tears’ as a quantity of minus’, a quality that makes them weak. Wherever a person goes, his/her identity shows the world their origin and culture, and tears are not the solution. Now the poet says the life of the immigrants by comparing them with a slingshot stone (a slingshot is a plaything consisting of a y-shaped stick with elastic between the arms). How that stone has a different origin but its fate is to fall on the place where it is shot to. Like that, the immigrants' fate is pointed double with history and are in a flight uttered with a force and recklessness that may or may not have an active state. The poet ends the poem by showing the innocent expectations of the immigrants for their future which has been built upon a hopeless base (a hopeful thought built on a hopeless foundation).

Note to the reader:

This poem has a profound use of language. The intensity of these poem lines may not be understood by people who are not immigrants.

CITATION: Philip, M. NourbeSe. "She tries her tongue, her silence softly breaks." Selected Poems. 1995, pp. 37-39.

~ Literpretation Team for Education

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