Milk and Honey
is a collection consisting of both poetry and prose by Indian-born Canadian poet Rupi Kaur. Self-published in 2014, the book is the author’s first release and was met with critical acclaim. It made it onto the New York Times Bestseller list and sold more than 2.5 million copies worldwide. The book’s title is a biblical reference, to Exodus 33:3 and God’s promise to lead the Israelites to a land of milk and honey. It is thought to have had such a wide-reaching impact because of its universal relatability on the subject of women’s issues.
The collection is divided into four sections: “The Hurting,” “The Loving,” “The Breaking,” and “The Healing.” Most of the poems in the collection are relatively short, consisting of a page of text or less. Along with the text, some poems have an ink drawing done by Kaur.
The first section of the book, “The Hurting,” focuses on the experience of pain, specifically concerning interpersonal relationships between men and women. Most of the poems in this section are written in the first person; after reading several of the poems, it becomes obvious that the speaker of the poem is inhabiting the female experience, discussing the trials and tribulations of growing up as a woman and especially the pain of being sexually abused from a young age. There are disturbing references to incest, from which one can infer that the writer experienced sexual trauma at the hands of family members, including her own father. The speaker asserts that she is not alone in these experiences: they are actually commonplace among women, and especially in Indian culture.
The second section, “The Loving,” displays a marked shift in tone and subject matter. The speaker of the poems is now an adult, and, having overcome the abuse of her past, is attempting to engage in consensual relationships with men. As the speaker heals from the scars of her past, she is able to celebrate the beauty in being with a loving, sensitive partner, one who is so different from the men she was surrounded with growing up. In this section, the speaker learns to enjoy pleasures of the body, to experience sex for herself rather than at the hands of an abuser. Finally, the speaker remarks that she is able to feel safe around certain men, a feeling she never anticipated.
The third section, “The Breaking,” is the longest of the collection. Towards the end of “The Loving,” the speaker makes reference to the fact that, although she has learned to experience love and positive feelings with regards to her partner, their relationship is by no means perfect. In fact, they argue more than they should. In “The Breaking,” the speaker is in the throes of a painful breakup with her partner, detailing the feelings of loss and loneliness that accompany this experience. She writes that her mother makes a comment stating that she deserves better, and it is a moment of realization for her that it is, perhaps, the end of the relationship. Although she knows that it must end, she cannot help but think about the women he will be with in the future. Much like the experience of a real-life breakup, the section ruminates on ideas of forced acceptance about the reality of the relationship, while simultaneously holding out hope that the strength of their emotional connection could one day bring them back together. The speaker ends the relationship, stating that it was causing her to feel less than whole and that she deserves to be appreciated as more than just a sexual being.
The final section of the book, “The Healing,” delves into the process of recovery and healing from the wounds suffered during a breakup, and beyond that, from the injuries sustained in the first section of the book, those that leave lifelong scars. In this section, the speaker strives to affirm her sense of self-worth, not to appeal to a man or attempt to seek love outside herself, but to be able to seek comfort and love on her own. The speaker is experiencing a moment of growth, as she realizes that the solitude she feared for so long can actually bring about positive change and a kind of comfort in recognizing one’s inner strength and self-reliance.
At the end of the book, the speaker seems hopeful and positive as she thanks all of the men in her life who have caused her pain, for in the end it has inspired a great deal of growth, and it has been the inspiration for her work. Out of her trauma, the poet has discovered her voice and her strength, and, in turn, seeks to inspire other women in similar situations.