Category Archives: Maya Angelou

‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

This is probably Maya Angelou’s best-known poem, and for good reason. It is a wonderfully defiant, human, uplifting cry from the deep heart of America, which tells a story that I’m sure speaks to us all.

The poem roots itself in the history of the African-American people, with it’s talk of slavery, and that gorgeous image of the “black ocean, leaping and wide” — such a powerful metaphor for overcoming oppression. But the poem’s scope is not limited to one people; it speaks of the universal notion of the defiance of the downtrodden. Angelou’s voice is resounding and sensually rhythmic, and carries so beautifully her message of strength and positivity.

Still I rise contains so many images that I love. In the first stanza, Angelou writes that although she may be trod into the very dirt, she will still rise like dust (“like dust, I’ll rise”). This idea, coupled with the soulful rhythm, creates a palpable atmosphere of unstoppable defiance. The dust rising, for me, delivers the image of a ghost — perhaps even the ghosts of slaves — that no oppressor or murderer can escape.

The recurring questions in the piece are brilliantly provocative: “Does my sassiness upset you?” “Does my haughtiness offend you?” and “Does my sexiness offend you?” she asks. I love this. It seems to overcome sexism and the oppression of women in particular. This is something that Maya Angelou overcame in her own life, and she speaks with such inspiring strength here. Another phrase that gives a great symbol bash to all of that is “Does it come as a surprise/ That I dance/ Like I’ve got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs?” This gives me goosebumps every time I read it. By specifically talking about the “meeting of [her] thighs” Angelou gives the ultimate defiance of a woman; she owns and loves every part of herself, and rises up, dazzling and sexy.

Another couple of images I love, and that I want to talk about, are the “oil wells” and the “gold mines” mentioned in the second and fifth stanzas. The poet writes that she walks “like I’ve got oil wells/ Pumping in my living room” and that she laughs “like I’ve got gold mines/ Diggin’ in my own back yard”. Again, her defiance is brilliant. Though her oppressors might think they have ended her by subjecting her to poverty, still, she walks like she has all the wealth in the world. I love the tone, here. It’s as though she knows her oppressors are so materialistic and mercenary, that the only way they can describe her joy and sexiness is to say she looks like she has a lot of money. The images of the oil wells “pumping” and the gold mines “Diggin’” are so strongly evocative; I just love it.

Here is a video of Maya Angelou reading Still I Rise. She has the most incredible voice and presence.

And here is another video I found on Youtube that I just had to share. This is Maya Angelou’s talking about how “love liberates”. I think she’s such an amazing and inspiring human being!

Read Also:

Biography of Maya Angelou

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

“The Lesson“ of Maya Angelou

The unique poem “The Lesson” from the American poetess Maya Angelou challenges mind even now, many years after its creation. Is this work autobiographical? This is for sure. Having reached the considerable age of 86, Maya Angelou kept surprising optimism until the last days of her life. And precisely all the survived by her disasters, starting from sexual violence in the childhood, prostitution in the youth, losses of respected and beloved people in the mature age, as if connected her more solidly to life, gave to this phenomenal woman a possibility to love life even more acutely.

What is her memory about the ones, who left behind the gate of the death? “Memory of old tombs, Rotting flesh and worms”. And simultaneously – the death is imagined as a part of life or life- as a part of the death. “Veins collapse, opening like the Small fists of sleeping Children”, and there is nothing more contrasty than such a combination of images, but it is hard to imagine an image, which would reflect more accurately this surprising correlation of the life and death.

Does Maya Angelou expect a death? No, she says: “I keep on dying, Because I love to live”. Take your life as the dying, changes appearing with age- as traces of the death. And these traces remain on the face – in deep wrinkles, “Lines along my face”, “They dull my eyes”. Of course, these traces remain also invisible. Because in the youth, a person has another vision, than in the maturity and old age. Wisdom is traces of the death changing a personality, nearing him to the natural final as well.

Is the inevitable final tragic? Can it make a phenomenal woman retreat? “Not convince me against The challenge”. No, nothing is able to break her spirit and force her to withdraw. She takes up challenge, she accepts traces of the death on her face and in her body and she continues to go ahead. Approach to a dream, as Maya Angelou says herself in her other poem: “I know why the caged bird sings”. Or follow a dream. Go ahead in order to make your dream come true, at least only in a song. Stepping over the death to give a hope to those ones, who stay at this side of a fatal line. To die, “I keep on dying again… Because I love to live”.

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk

“Phenomenal Woman” of Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

The poem “Phenomenal Woman” is a known poetic work of Maya Angelou, a poetess and a public person, one of the most successful African-American women in the middle of the ХХth century in America.

The author confirms self-critically enough: “I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size”, – and really – Maya Angelou or Margaret Ann Johnson, as she was called actually, was by no means a sample of physical excellence and attractiveness. Although her life experience was complex and she had to sell herself at different times (prostitution, dance shows), her appeal concealed not in the body, but in the spirit. The author says: “I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,  

That’s me”.

Objectively, phenomenal aspect of this author is in the fact that Maya Angelou actually feels like a woman in the deepest sense of this word. Forcing the path through thickets of public stereotypes into popularity, she was a black (which served in itself as the grounds for discrimination) woman (still in the socially undeveloped societies, a woman is regarded as a creature of the second or third grade) and additionally, she was originally from a poor family. Objectively, “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies… But when I start to tell them, They think I’m telling lies”.

What is the special thing, which attracts these numerous men, who cannot resist magic (or insistence?) of this phenomenal woman? The author believes that “It’s the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist is And the joy in my feet…”. And at the same time she confirms that even “Men themselves have wondered What they see in me”, but they cannot understand this to the full.

What is this poem about? About the fact that a woman is a phenomenon. The woman who is strong enough to remain forever one, even in the most unfavorable external conditions. An accomplished woman, a self- made woman, a self-confident woman – Maya Angelou, certainly, speaks about herself. But also about the stuff, which is important for her in every person. Yes, a woman is a miracle much more complex for cognition, than a man. At least just because she is able to undermine imagination of a man, be a source of life and the source of “My inner mystery”. Of the secret, on which those ones, who did not receive access, cannot touch.

However, there is one more important thing. It is the one, which is important both for women and men from the author`s point of view: “Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud”. Not to bow, not to speak loudly, not to try to conquer attention by any external manifestations. But only by the world inside. “ ’Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me”.

“I know why the caged bird sings“ of Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The poem “I know why the caged bird sings” holds a special place in the creative work of the African-American poetess Maya Angelou. As a matter of fact, this is not just a poem, but a manifesto of a kind, which gave the name to the entire autobiographical book.

Born in the beginning of the ХХth century, Margaret Ann Johnson (this is her real name) made the long way from an oppressed and humiliated African-American kid to a person, who is able to speak on behalf of her compatriots, women, all oppressed ones. The poem “I know why the caged bird sings” represents an opposition of its kind of a free bird and a bird born in a cage, whose wings are cut off and feet are entangled.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing”, – the words of this stanza are filled, on one hand, with oppositions, on the other, with realization of hopeless overconfidence of a free bird, and of hopelessness of the second encaged. In both cases, the result is the same – a bird (as a person) – cannot possess the sky (the world). And each of them is richer in something: the encaged one – in a dream and song, the free one– in flight, but not in a dream about the flight.

One can realize deep senses put by the author into these lines only having learned more of the life and dreams of the African-American poetess. Really, the woman, who came through sexual violence and indifference of the relatives, menial works and prostitution in the youth, on the way to her dream, knows exactly, “why the caged bird sings”. They sing about their dream, but only few of them get chance to realize this dream. And they will have to stain every sinew for reaching the sky.

The final stanza reveals the secret of the song – this is the song about freedom. “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom”. Is this dream really so unattainable? Bothe the poem and the author’s experience say yes and not. Yes, because it is challenging to achieve one`s freedom, but, if one sings about it, this is the first step from a cage. It is a stepping stone to comprehension free from inside. Not – because the society still holds prejudice against blacks, the poor and other vulnerable people. Both weak and strong perish without having ended a song, without having achieved freedom. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, her colleagues in struggle for civil rights were killed, having paid their price for the freedom of others. Or for a dream and sings of freedom?

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk

‘Sill I rise’ by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

The first thing I read by Maya Angelou was her memoir, I know why the caged bird sings, which covers her childhood years. I found that book to be a real inspiration. I was astounded by the spirit of this incredible woman because, although she suffered atrocious traumas and hardships in her life, and was subjected to all sorts of abuse, she rose above it all to become this utterly amazing person, and a poet with a positive message. There is a defiant generosity in her poetry, and it is just brimming with attitude — and I love that.
This poem in particular — probably one of her best-known — is certainly full of defiance. As a survivor of childhood abuse, Angelou here expresses defiance of that oppression, speaking with pride of her own “sassiness”, and “sexiness” — dancing “like I’ve got diamonds/ at the meeting of my thighs”. But Still I rise also speaks for the African-American people for whom Angelou fought so courageously during the Civil Rights Movement. That she is speaking for them is made clear at the end of the poem when she talks about being a “black ocean, leaping and wide”, and says “I am the dream and the hope of the slave”. This is a poem of victories with its repetitive chant, “I rise/ I rise/ I rise”. This is a chant but it might also be an incantation, willing this to be so — willing other peoples to “rise” and fight for their rights, as the African-American people have done.
I love the descriptions of wealth in this poem — she uses them to evoke what it feels like to break free from oppression. This is relevant to both the political persecution that Angelou lived through, and also the personal and sexual abuse that she suffered. It is as though the poet has to explain the value of Freedom in monetary terms to people who never been deprived of it. Her “sassiness”, “haughtiness”, and “sexiness” come from a sense of pride, of self-worth, of Freedom from oppression… all these things that she has won for herself, through political fight, and through personal battles too. The poet explains that now she walks “like I’ve got oil wells/ pumping in my living room”, and laughs “like I’ve got gold mines/ Diggin’ in my own back yard”, and dances because she’s got “diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs.” I just love these images because they’re so provocative and triumphant.
It seems to me that this poem is a hymn for oppressed peoples and people anywhere.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh