“The Lesson“ of Maya Angelou

I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.

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