Lucille Clifton was born June 27, 1936 in Depew, NY, but grew up in Buffalo. She attended both Howard University, and the State University of New York at Fredonia. Lucille Clifton traced her family’s roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin. Growing up she was told by her mother, “Be proud, you’re from Dahomey women!” Though she has many underlining themes in her writing, one theme that stands out to me would be the power and voices of women.
One poem that Clifton wrote that gives women a voice would be “Sarah’s Promise”. This poem has a direct relation to Genesis 22:1-20 from the Bible. The story of Genesis is the story of Abraham’s devotion to God. God told Abraham,
“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)
Since Abraham needed to prove his devotion to God, he decided to do as he wished. The Bible states,
“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” (Genesis 22:9)
However, God sent an angel to tell Abraham to not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.
Though this story has been passed on and known from generation to generation, as with every bible story, the view point of the women is non-existent. When reading this story one would never think to see the side of Sarah who is Abraham’s wife and Isaac’s mother. How would one feel knowing that her husband was going to kill her one and only child? However, she doesn’t even get a say. The bible does not show her side of the story.
That is why Lucille Clifton wrote her poem, “Sarah’s Promise”. She is giving a women from hundreds of years ago a voice. Clifton is showing that women are as important as men. She states,
“who understands better than I
the hunger in old bones
for a son? so here we are,
abraham with his faith
and I my fury.” (820)
This quote is showing how she is equal to men. Both Sarah and her husband Isaac have something to give or say to the lord. Abraham has his faith, but she has her rage. She has been desperately wanted a child and she is telling God what she has. She will fight to get her child back. Though Abraham is proving his faith to God, Sarah is showing that she is determined to get Isaac back. Clifton also portrays Sarah’s willpower to get Isaac back by stating,
I march into the thicket of your need and promise you
the children of young women,
yours for a thousand years
their faith I will send to you,” (820)
Clifton is portraying the determination that Sarah has. She is offering promises and begging for her son to be alive and to return home to her.
Not only is Clifton letting Sarah speak through her, but she is also portraying Sarah as a strong demanding women. In her poem Clifton states,
speak to my husband.
spare me my one good boy.” (820)
In this part of the poem Sarah is commanding God. She is telling him to go to where her husband is and tell him to stop. She is demanding that God spares her one child.
All in all, you can see how Lucille Clifton gives a women who had nothing for centuries, a voice. She is able to show the struggle and hardship that a women in that situation would go through. Clifton also makes this small person in history into a large, independent, and strong figure.