Maya Angelou Poems
The Message of Strength in Still I Rise
Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” can be understood as the narrative of a woman who was discarded and hampered by the world and its cruel definition of beauty and success. You can discern the story of a young girl who once felt ashamed to appear in the light, and a tale of the same young lady transforming into a woman who has pride in the person she is, inside and out. Angelou seems to portray a similar theme as this powerful woman’s. She wrote a poem that insists on the ability of all human kind being able to ‘rise’ from all circumstance. Through her use of metaphoric phrases, her choice of vivid vocabulary, and her beautiful similes, Maya Angelou crafts a poem filled with a message of strength and endurance.
An American poet of remarkable optimism, Maya Angelou can be described as a writer who understands the true usage of contradicting and powerful metaphors. In “Still I Rise,” there are abundant metaphorical phrases that will keep you extremely attentive when reading them. One circumstance of such a metaphor is through her description of dirt and dust. She begins by saying “You may tread me in the very dirt” (line 3) however she finishes the sentence saying “But still like dust, I’ll rise”. In these two lines, she is able to address the meaning of treading someone in the dirt or in simpler terms, belittling someone and treating them as if they are minute. She is also able to show us that something as inconsistent as ‘dust’ can rise even if it is seen as incapable. Maya also decides to use violence as a metaphor, to show her audience that there is cruelty which is deeper than physical pain. An example of this could be when she mentions that “You may shoot me with your words” (21). This powerful line is able to show us that in every circumstance where we feel like the victim whether through speech, emotional abuse, or physical abuse, it is still an act of inflicting hurt and it should be taken with an act of perseverance. Maya reveals to us that not all atrocities are clear cut and emphasized for us to understand, but no matter how big or small these things seem and no matter who we are we still have the ability to rise.
Certain words evoke multiple emotions for people who read them. Maya Angelou uses a wide range of vocabulary that creates a great deal of imagery and controversy in the way we view the poem. She shows us her approach to how self confidence should be expressed, using the word “sexiness” to ask the question “Does my sexiness upset you?” (25). This question is written in a way that is meant to show that we should not be ashamed of who we are and how we look which is an apparent explanation of the main theme of the poem. Another example of a word which excites our reader brains is the word slave. This is a word which is controversial in a number of countries and can even be related to primarily in the United States. She uses the word by saying “I am the dream and the hope of the slave” (40). This statement is added onto the poem for us to be able to understand that she has no choice but to rise because of the people who fought for her chance to be able to pursue her dreams. One last word that was used ten times in the poem was rise. Since this particular word is even in the title we as the readers can assume that it is important and relevant to the writer that we understand that we can rise. Such a diverse lexicon helps us to think about the meaning behind the written identity of her poem.
Comparisons are an important component of Maya Angelou’s poetic repertoire, and are especially evident in the number of similes that Angelou used as she wrote “Still I Rise.” One instance of this is when she compares walking to having oil wells. She says “”Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells pumping in my living room” (7-8). Although she knows that she does not have much, she has her confidence and pride and carries herself with that because she knows that she can rise. Another example of a simile is she compares the moon and suns to herself and everyone else who is meant to rise. While keeping a clear image in our minds, she says “Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise” (9-12). Nature, particularly the different types she mentions in this stanza show an example of common things that were created have the automatic ability to rise, this should give us the realization that rising is actually a simple task.
Though falling down and getting back up is a hard task to handle, Angelou shows us that with the right amount of self assurance we can do anything and we can rise from any situation. She gives us a proper lesson on what it means to control how we live our lives, either constantly complaining of our struggles or acknowledging them and choosing to rise above them. Maya Angelou wrote a poem filled with a message of strength and endurance through her use of metaphoric phrases, her choice of vivid vocabulary, and her beautiful similes.
Summary Of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou
Maya was sent from her father in California to her grandmother in Stamps when she was three years old, with her four-year-old brother Bailey. She lived in the back of the store which ran by her grandmother and uncle. The store is the center for local Negro community. Maya started reading and enjoying literature, especially Shakespeare, but her grandmother, Momma, was against with white person. At Stamps, Maya met her uncle Willie who was a poor man because of his disability. She felt sorry to him but she could do nothing to help. Even though Maya is opposite in appearance with Bailey, they got a good relationship with each other and it is important to the growth of little Maya. Momma was always mocked by a few poor white girls. Momma, however, did not do anything instead of standing there and acting politely. Later there was a depression on the economy, and the shortage of goods occurred. To solve this situation, Momma made a new kind of trading system. After the depression, the Christmas came. Both Maya and Bailey got gifts from their parents. Since that they had not heard the message of their parents for years, Maya and Bailey became sad thinking about it.
In the next year, their father came to the Stamps and brought Maya and Bailey with him when he left. Their father took them to where their mother lived, a big city. Maya and Bailey surprised to found that people in the big city are nothing like those in the Stamps. In the big city, Maya and Bailey lived with their mother and their mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. One day morning, Mr. Freeman molested Maya and he threatened Maya that he would kill Bailey if Maya told anyone about it. Maya had been tolerated both physically and emotionally crushed for times, and later Maya’s mother knew what Mr. Freeman did and send him to the court. Although with helping from a lawyer, Mr. Freeman escaped from the judgment of law, he was beaten to death at the end. When Maya heard this new, she regretted that she lied on the court. After Maya and Bailey went back to the stamps, they were welcomed by the local people because they wanted to know more about the city. While Bailey made up some interesting and exciting stories and told those stories to others, Maya muted herself because of the experience in the city. The appearance of a proper woman, Mrs. Flowers made a difference on this embarrassing situation. She invited Maya to her house to have afternoon tea together, read a book together and then speak to each other.
Later, Maya was willing to talk to others. Maya used to work for a white woman, Mrs. Cullinan, for the period. Because of that Mrs. Cullinan refused to call her proper name, Maya dropped Mrs. Cullinan’s favorite dishes and get fired on purpose. On one Saturday, Maya watched a movie and she found that one character in the movie looks like her mother, and she believed that she is her mother. Maya began her first relationship with a girl called Louise, and also Bailey made friend with Joyce. But Joyce left without any indication, and it hurts Bailey’s heart badly. Maya leaned the death when she was forced to go to the funeral by Momma, and the feeling on funeral had a profound effect on Maya. Graduation day was approached. Even though Maya’s competitor got the chance to give the class speech, she did not care about it for overexcited. Mr. Edward Donleavy, a kind of school superintendent, ruined the graduation ceremony through his bad speech, however. But later, people sang the “Negro National Anthem” together even if it should be banned in such a situation. This song made every black people proud of themselves.
Life of black people is hard. Maya had two cavities, but there were no black dentists in the Stamps, so Momma took her to a white dentist. The white people refused to give Maya treatment. Maya describes a fantasy scene, in which Momma gets revenge against Dr. Lincoln and makes him apologize for his insults to her. But, actually, Momma took Maya to another black dentist in Texarkana instead. Since Willie and Momma knew that neither Maya nor Bailey could accustom the life in the Stamps, they send Maya and Bailey back to California, to Maya and Bailey’s mother. Maya had a hard time at one school and then transferred to George Washington High School, which only had three black students. An excellent teacher, Miss Kirwin, treated her without any prejudice. Besides of study, Maya also begins to take dance and drama classes. Maya took the train down to Southern California to spend the summer with her father and her father’s girlfriend, Dolores. They went to a small mountain town. Maya had a good time there, but her father disappeared. When Maya tried to drive the car down the mountain by the force of will alone, she got hurts. So, the rest of the drive home was silent and uncomfortable. They finally reached home, and Dolores and Daddy Bailey had an argument; she said she wants to marry him, but dislikes Maya and doesn’t want her around. Dolores was upset and insulted Maya’s mother, and Maya slapped her; Dolores cut Maya somehow, and Maya had to run away to protect herself. Later, Maya was token to a nurse by her father. Then Maya is homeless. She had to live in a junkyard car for a while. When Maya finally came back home, she looked much older. Maya decided to get a job. But she was refused only because she is black.
Finally, she was hired as the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. She decided to get a boyfriend, so she asked a good-looking neighbor boy to had sex with her, and they did. A few weeks later, she found out that she was pregnant.
The Social, Political and Cultural Issues Which Serve as the Backdrop of Maya Angelou’s Memoir
Maya Angelou’s series of seven autobiographies collectively captures the various sections of her enthralling and turbulent life. The Heart of a Woman (1981), as her fourth autobiography is an account of the beginning of her writing career, her encounters with several political figures, her active involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and her relationship with her son Guy. “Maya Angelou concentrates on the biography sub-genre as a vital tool of self-expression at the personal level as well as the collective levels” (Kolawole 190). Through a description of her personal experiences and relationships, Angelou manages to draw out a number of social, political, and cultural issues pervading the environment which serves as the backdrop of her memoir. This particular volume is possibly the most political of her autobiographies as it touches on the period of her life where she was an active member of the Civil Rights Movement and was also involved in the African struggle for freedom. However, the text differs from a historical text in that it is able to focus on the personal experiences and relationships of the author amidst all the socio-political turbulences. According to Mary Kolawole, “(b)y drawing attention to her personal experience, Angelou, like many African-American writers, deploys individual reality to give expression to the collective awareness” (190). The stress is on the experience of motherhood, especially that of a black mother. Though almost all her works undoubtedly have feminist leanings, the type of feminism that Angelou explores is more identifiable as a ‘womanist’ approach.
The term ‘womanism’ was coined by Alice Walker who describes a womanist as “A black feminist or feminist of colour”(xi), and on its relationship with feminism, she says: “Womanist is to feminist as purple to lavender”(xii). This is suggestive of the inclusion of the term ‘womanism’ and ‘feminism’ under the same collective umbrella. The term is a result of the belief that ‘feminism’ does not encompass the perspectives of black women, prompting the need to create a specific type of feminism that is inclusive and focused on black women. It leans toward a preference for “women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility, and women’s strength… Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female” (Walker xi). It accounts the relationship of black women with the men in their lives, as well as with other women and often touches on the ways in which black women support and empower black men. It does not necessarily represent any political standpoint and values other than the honoring and appreciation of black women’s strength and experiences. According to Deborah King, “the connotation of ‘women’ within the black community have become positive ones, asserting and affirming the value in female of adult qualities such as ability, independence, creativity, loving, and strength”(1486). Thus, Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman, which explores the experiences of womanhood, the strength and resilience that helped her through a perplexing and complex life as a black woman can pass as a remarkable womanist text. Moreover, Angelou herself quite perfectly fits Alice Walker’s description of a womanist who “Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the folk. Loves herself. Regardless”(xii).
The novel unfolds as a multifaceted story of a woman who is struggling with her career, with motherhood, with her love life, as well as with the socio-political issues of her time. In the book Angelou describes her journey of shifting her career from singing to writing, her intricate and perplexing relationship with her son, her dynamic love life and difficult marriage, her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and her relocation to Egypt and Ghana, exploring her heritage. In the memoir, Angelou commences her narration in 1957, when the United States was “a-moverin’ to, fro, up, down and often in concentric circles”(Angelou 1), when the relationship between the blacks and the whites was “a maze of contradictions”(Angelou 1). The beginning alone foreshadows the rather political vein that will run throughout the text. It manages to serve as a remarkable historical text touching on the most significant social and political events of the time and the socio-political atmosphere is vividly perceivable through the lens of the author’s experience. But apart from this focus on the social level, her personal and individual experiences took precedence, distinctly identifying the book as a personal memoir rather than a historical record.
Angelou’s relationship with her son serves as possibly the most important, ‘the heart’ of the memoir. Her son, Guy Johnson was coming of age around the time this volume is set. With the outset of the American Civil Rights Movement calling for a particular brand of child rearing, motherhood for Angelou was intense and complex. Though Guy himself is not depicted as being a difficult child or in need of any sort of special nurturing, there was still a certain level of anxiety in Angelou, maternal anxieties that were both universal and exclusively African-American. Some anxieties like that over the absence of a father-figure in her child’s life prove universal as it is a common phenomenon amongst single-mothers. When she develops romantic ties, she always seeks for a possible father figure for Guy apart from her personal satisfaction. This need she feels enables her to bear the alienation and detachment she feels when Guy develops a friendship with her husband Vus and is no longer dependent on her as much as he used to be. When she detects this change in their relationship, she simply says, “I yearned for our old closeness, and his dependence, but I knew he needed a father, a male image, a man in his life” (Angelou 238). Putting aside her own selfish desire and possessiveness over her son, she manages to accept what she believes to be in her son’s best interest. The power of motherhood and the reflection of a maturity and emotional strength on the part of the womanist author prove significant. The intense sense of responsibility of a mother is highlighted when she recalls the accident her family met with when Guy was seven, and laments in self-blame: “we had not caused the accident… But I was the mother, the most powerful person in his world who could make everything better… I could have prevented the accident” (264). Motherhood, in Angelou’s case, motivates and drives her to strive for seemingly impossible and unachievable qualities, consequently resulting in a self-actualization and awareness of potentialities.
As a black mother, Angelou is faced with a very complicated responsibility where she needs to make his son aware of the true condition of the limitations that comes with his skin colour, but at the same time encourage him not to submit to racial prejudices. According to Angelou, “the black mother perceives destruction at every door, ruination at each window, and even she herself is not beyond her own suspicion… within the home, she must display a right to rule which at any moment, by a knock at the door or a ring of the telephone can be exposed as false. In the face of these contradictions, she must provide a blanket of stability, which warms but does not suffocate, and she must tell her children the truth about the power of white power without suggesting that it cannot be challenged”(44). Achieving the balance between instinctive maternal nurturing and a need to let them achieve maturity and awareness happens to be a difficult task for the author. Despite these difficulties, she manages to raise a mature young man, who, towards the end of the volume, speaks of his wishes for her mother to “grow up”(Angelou 345) . This role reversal serves as a pleasant reminder of the impressive work the author had done in bringing up her child despite the turbulent condition of their lives and despite his coming of age in the midst of social upheaval. This relationship between black mother and child adheres to the features of womanism, both in the aspect of its preference for women’s culture through motherhood, as well as its portrayal of a black woman’s relationship with a black man, the former supporting and empowering the latter.
This volume also draws out the strength of the author through her professional career and political activism. Despite never receiving proper education and always having pursued her career in the field of performance art, Angelou manages to be a resourceful worker and motivated writer. As the book talks of the initiation of Angelou’s writing career, we get to see that even great and prolific literary icons like the author herself had initially faced harsh criticisms. With striking courage combined with an intense awareness of her cultural heritage, she talks of her determination: “If I ended in defeat, at least I would be trying. Trying to overcome was black people’s honorable tradition”(52). Even after her writing was not so well received by the members of the Harlem Writers’ Guild, she did not give up and had now earned a position in the pantheon of American literature. The remarkable resilience and determination she reflects can be held accountable for the success and recognition she had received. Even when it comes to political activism she was determined and courageous. Though she is not familiar with the type of work or knows how to type, she accepts the position offered to her as coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Black solidarity, a significant component of womanism, is also drawn out multiple times, serving as a weapon against the atrocities of the racial subjugation imposed by the whites. When she attended the Harlem church where Dr. King made an appearance, she noticed that those in the church were “one people, indivisible in the sight of God, responsible to each other and for each other”(Angelou 69). Here she voices her belief of championing this unity over the white community’s hatred towards them, she proposes, “we the most hated, must take hate into our hands and by the miracle of love, turn loathing into love”(Angelou 69-70).
Angelou explored the resurgent interest in African culture that was prevalent during the Civil Right Movement. Partly as an act of awareness and assertion of her ancestral roots, she marries an African freedom fighter Vusumzi Make but this act proves unfulfilling and complicated as the husband turns out to be philandering and economically irresponsible. His complete upholding of African values in conjugal administration is also problematic as the author is not given any space for self-assertion and awareness while playing “the cared-for housewife”, “the role marriage had forced upon (her)”(261). Though she courageously and determinedly tried to assume the role of the traditional African wife as housekeeper, cook, and lover as homage to her African heritage, she could not completely depend on anyone else but herself. Hence, she sought for a job with the help of an African-American journalist David Du Bois even with her husband’s disapproval. Though she was well aware of her African heritage she also revealed that realignment with ancestral practices is not positively suited to the modern world.
Angelou opens her book thanking her sisters/friends whose love encouraged her to spell her name ‘W O M A N’, attesting to the significance given to networking with other people for her own self-growth and maturity. Throughout the book we are introduced to a number of figures who play such integral roles in the life of the author. The progress and growth in the life of the author is narrated in light of a firm recognition of the importance of collective unity and power for individual growth. Angelou celebrates the love and integrity amongst the black community in which she plays an active part. According to Deborah King, “a womanist is spirited and spiritual, determined and decisive, committed to struggle and convicted of victory. A womanist acknowledges the particulist experiences and cultural heritage of black women, resists systems of domination, and insists on liberty and self-determination of all people”(1487). Through a study of The Heart of a Woman, we see that Angelou in the book, through her celebration of her relationships with black men and other black women, her strength, maturity, and resilience, and her intense awareness of cultural heritage, undoubtedly fits the description of a womanist.
Works Cited Angelou, Maya. The Heart of a Woman. London: Virago Press. 1981. Print. Gillespie, Marcia. Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration. New York: Doubleday. 2008. Pdf. Higashida, Cheryl. Black Internationalist Feminism. Urbana: University of Chicago Press. 2013. Print. King, Deborah K. “Womanist, Womanism, Womanish” . Women’s Studies Encyclopedia:Q-Z. Vol. 3. Ed. Helen Tierney. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. 1999. Pdf. 1486-1487. Kolawole, Mary Ebun Modupe. Womanism and African Consciousness. Trenton: Africa World Press Inc. 1997. Pdf. Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother’s Garden. London: The Women’s Press. 1984. Pdf.
The Themes Raised In “River, The Rock, And The Tree” By Maya Angelou
In January of 1993 Maya Angelou became the first black woman – the first woman at all – to stand at the podium of a presidential inauguration as a speaker. It was a momentous occasion not only for her as a poet, but for America, as her words of hope and remembrance rang out over the National Mall (and global television). For the occasion she wrote “On the Pulse of Morning”, a free verse tale to remind all of us that history is to be learned from, not repeated. The United States had just somewhat emerged from a dark period – Operation Desert Storm, the LA Riots – and the election and subsequent swearing in of Bill Clinton as Commander-in-Chief served as the beginning of a new era for the nation; new goals, a new span of peacetime, new hope. The topics Angelou touched on throughout the poem fell in line with Clinton’s first speech as president that day, showing a unified front that the country truly needed at that point.
Angelou shies away from simile for this one, focusing more on personifying the existence of the River, the Rock, and the Tree. These integral parts of Earth share their memories and their wisdom with the reader, hoping to remind us that peace is not as difficult as one may make it seem. Each has a voice and a heart, pushing to further a simpler agenda of harmony among all people, something that was appreciated as timely for 1993. The same could be said for the climate we find ourselves in now. These characters, if you will, share a somewhat gentle reminder of how things once were, and could be again, and offer to assist humans in their work to return to a more peaceful place.
Estrangement serves as a recurring theme throughout the poem. The River gives great input on the matter, stating how having every man act as his own nation with sealed borders does not sanction a possibility of working together to striver for the better, and most certainly does not give way for peace. She later refers to a more innocent time when man’s best insight was in acknowledging that he doesn’t know anything, and that we have now come to a time where a man knows – at least – something, and due to this has become too proud and cynical towards coming together.
There is also the theme of taking history into accord when moving forward, to remember that history is unchangeable but that its purpose is to serve a reminder of what works and what doesn’t. The dark subjects of slavery and the annihilation of Native Americans by colonists are mentioned, and it is said that though these parts of history hurt, they cannot be erased, and if we forge forward with strength we need not live that way again.
The idea of alliance through our differences is noted when Angelou tells us that those of every belief have come together to hear the Tree share its wisdom, and, when it is insisted that is up to all humans – man, woman, and child alike – to take on the burden of altering America’s downtrodden human state into something they can stand behind with pride. This theme is also shown when the River, the Rock, and the Tree claim that they will be there for all people; no matter their age or status of wealth.
Greed and its ability to disintegrate humanity is touched upon a couple of times. In one set of lines, the River explains how the uprising of manmade industry has littered hazardous waste along her shoreline. The exploitation of Native American slave labor in the search for gold is also mentioned, as well as the kidnapping and profiteering of African slaves.
Aside from the lingering undertone of hope, there is also another sort of unspoken concept that the poem supports within society. The specific mentioning of so many kinds of people on multiple occasions showcases the excess of cultures America is home to, which puts forth Angelou’s desire for the United States to continue to be seen as a melting pot in the positive sense. A place where different ethnicities and different groups can live among each other with understanding. As I mentioned before, this time has aged well and is once again a necessary read for Americans, though one more than likely wishes we just didn’t have to deal with such disparity again.
While Angelou doesn’t follow any sort of rhyming scheme or true meter, her sense of poetic ability shines through with how she is able to write in a way that we can all interpret. Her vocabulary is not so high brow that her work is difficult to read; it is beautiful yet straightforward. I remember watching her recite this poem live on CSPAN when I was 8 years old. Aside from nursery rhymes it was my first time being exposed to poetry, and I was enthralled. I was sort of a weird kid, very politically aware and interested in world events. I had an acute awareness of cultural and racial differences and had only recently learned what racism was during a viewing of the nightly news a few months earlier. At 8 years old, this poem put a surge of hope in my tiny heart. I didn’t want to see scary stuff anymore, and while Maya Angelou didn’t shy away from the fact that scary stuff exists, she was able to put herself out there as an adult who believed in the concept of hope, and the idea of it being fulfilled.
A Feminist Discourse in Men by Maya Angelou
“On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself–on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.” Simone de Beauvoir
Maya Angelou’s poem, “Men” is an exceptional example of power V/S powerlessness and it skilfully takes us into the mindset of a woman who has doubtlessly been a victim of the male dominating society. The poem communicates to us very conveniently, the intricate complication of our vulnerable need for men as well as the stark divergence in our characters. The subject matter and her dealing with it confirm the height of the maturity of the poet and her remarkable ability to portray her body’s thoughts as well as her mind’s working. She has tried to reveal the unfeeling, bitter and ruthless nature of men through a hidden contract which portrays the delicacy, innocence and patience of women. The “non-significant other” of the first stanza seems to be fully exposed to the bitterness of life by the end of the poem.
Keeping in mind Lacan’s concept that the “entry into the Symbolic Order, the structure of language, is different for boys and girls” and also focusing on the fact that the Post structuralist feminist theory throws light on “the category or position ‘woman’ as part of a binary opposition, ‘man/woman’, in which ‘man’ is the favoured term”, we can take a look at the poem and form a very vivid idea about it. We also have to remember that the goal of the feminists is to deconstruct this ‘man/woman’ binary, and all the other binaries that strengthen and emphasize it, such as ‘masculine/feminine, good/evil, light/dark, positive/negative, culture/nature’ etc. The ‘phallogocentric culture’ in which we dwell values the left-side terms more while considering the right-side terms as ‘other’ or undesirable.
The experiences of women and their portrayal of them differ enormously from those of men’s. The feminists believed that it was important to develop a uniquely female consciousness based on the experience of women rather than stressing upon the conventional “male theories of reading, writing and critiquing.” Known as “gynocriticism”, (a term coined by the feminist scholar Elaine Showalter), this “female model of literary analysis” provides four directions for the evaluation of a certain text which we would be applying to the poem.
The first direction leads us to the “images of the female body” in the poem. According to Bresslor, female writers use “anatomical imagery” to present their complex themes. For example, breasts have always been a subject of some controversy in feminism, being our ‘foremost’ sexual charm, so to speak. It’s a dilemma for feminism: on the one hand, breasts are something that declares us to be women; but on the other hand, men like breasts so therefore they are dirty and wicked. Image of “breasts” here suggests the innocence and vulnerability of young girls to the probable and expected harms of the society (obviously, through the exploitation by the dominating sex). We do find an inkling here of some sort of conceited satisfaction of the possession of the breasts when Maya is comparing the “high” shoulders of men with “the breasts of a young girl.”
The Second direction, which is indeed very interesting for the examination of this poem, leads us to the kind of “language” being used by Maya. The selection of words for men and woman differ strongly and we can clearly observe that harsh and arrogant vocabulary is used for men while women are dealt with in a very fragile and pious way. Although we are told that it is the woman spying over men from “behind the curtains”, watching them as they walk up and down the street, but we do get vibes that the real “spy” is the man who would ultimately grab hold of the “defenceless” woman, and finally “shatter” her apart. The words like “young men sharp as mustard” with shoulders “high” suggest the power of the male, highlighting and supporting the western culture’s assumption that “ males are superior to females and therefore are better thinkers, more rational, more serious and more reflective than women.” The fragility of the tender sex is further enhanced by the dramatic illustration of the handling of women by men. The similes and comparisons as well as the vocabulary used clearly confirm the sex of the poet to be female. We can trace a number of images that refer to the kitchen and kitchen-ware. Phrases like “sharp as mustard”, “starving for them”, “last raw egg” and “head of a kitchen match” are obvious examples of vocabulary used by women. It is not that such vocabulary cannot be used by men, but the way it is used unconsciously here in this poem is undoubtedly an effort of a woman.
The third and the most significant direction suggested by gynocriticism is to evaluate the “female psyche” and its connection to the writing process. We need to observe some of the concepts inculcated in the minds of women about the men to trace and evaluate the hidden female psyche behind this poem. Men are feared by women everywhere. They are strong, powerful and are laden with an ability to exploit women anytime. They treat women in a ruthless manner, are deceitful and vile towards them and lack loyalty in relations. The poem refers to all these concepts in a captivating way.
It seems quite obvious that she had some traumatic and unforgettable experience with men or a man. The only power she seems to possess over men is the power of standing behind the “curtain” which, obviously, isn’t much at all. Curtain, here, could be symbolic of various things including virginity, distance, oblivion and innocence. The need of a man in a woman’s life is obvious and the poet is aware of it as she knows she is “starving” for him, but the ultimate fear keeps her behind the “curtain” as she has some vague knowledge of the deceitful nature of man as well. She knows that as long as she is behind the curtain, she is comparatively safe from the tyrannical handling of the man. The more distant she is from the “centre” man , she has more chances to be “slippery”, “fluid”, “less fixed” and “playful.” Another image that “Men are always going somewhere” refers to the universal characteristic of males that they are never satisfied with one thing. No matter what they possess, they are always on the hunt for more. After they fully utilize (read exploit) the body of these “mindless entities”, they conveniently move ahead, leaving the “shattered” existences behind with the “slammed shut” bodies devoid of any keys.
Culture and society’s influence on the woman’s understanding of herself and her surroundings is the fourth direction we have to look at according to the gynocriticism. The mores and traditions of the society are so overwhelming specifically for the women that they have to mold their lives according to the customs set by the male rulers. In this poem, we see that the poet has traced the gradual development of the woman’s mind in an excellent way. The Curtain, seen through the eyes of culture, could also refer to the naivety and simplicity of the young girl of the poem. The drawing of the “window” full upon the “mind” could possibly hint to the revelation on the mind of the woman about the true reality of the man and society at large. After experiencing her worst experience, the young girl now is fully exposed to the bitter reality of life. By the end of the poem, she tries to assure the audience that, now that she is aware of the truth and the harshness of life, she would avoid any encounter with these men. “But this time”, she says, “I will simply stand and watch.” But this is not so, as we are given a hint of the vulnerability of the woman through the last word. She isn’t sure she would be able to keep herself away from men. The last “May be” clearly states that neither is she sure of being safe from the mistreatment of the men in future nor can she strictly keep herself behind the curtain anymore.
Woman Work and the Idea of Selfhood
Maya Angelou was an acclaimed writer and civil rights activist who reached a broad audience through her works. While she is perhaps best known for her autobiographical prose, her poetry has changed the landscape of feminist writing, bringing in a new idea of the celebration of self-definition and selfhood as an integral part of the attainment of liberation and agency.
Her poem Woman Work delineates the life of a woman as being akin to that of a slave. While idea is latent in most of the poem, her conception becomes quite overt with the mention of picking cotton. Part of the poem reads like a list with a breathless pace, an indication of the tedious life of a woman. The rhyme scheme is not regular, but exists in part of the poem to further accelerate the rhythm of the poem. This pace of the poem is representative of the life of a woman, with the woman having no time to stop; the list of her works seems to go on and on. In the following lines, this idea is especially prominent.
I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.
In these lines, the poet delineates the life of a woman. This part of the poem makes it seem like someone is reading it breathlessly. The works of the woman range from her domestic duties, like tending to children and shopping for food, as well as her chores as a slave, like picking cotton. This shows the kind of life that women, specially black women, were forced to lead as they were condemned to live a life in the margins.
The idea of double colonization of the third world woman comes to mind when the reader sees the part about picking cotton. African women were discriminated against on the basis of race as well as gender. They were hence pushed to the very fringes of society, stripped of any voice or agency that the “Others” from different demographics might have.
The pace of the poem then slows down in the next stanza, and a sense of relief is communicated in the following lines:
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.
The speaker finally seems to find some rest. What is interesting is that it seems like nature is her only escape. Where humankind has doomed her into a life of subservience, nature gives her a catharsis. One of the very significant themes that surfaces in this part of the poem is that of the binary of nature and humankind. Nature doesn’t discriminate and provides the only solace the speaker can seem to find.
From this poem, quite a few inferences can be made. It is very clear from the lines of the first stanza that the poet wishes to draw a parellel between the life of a woman and that of a slave. both having been marginalized in terms of suffering. So often do we forget that there is an intersection between gender-based and racial prejudice. This poet attempts to expose the reality of living a life when one is marginalized both because of gender as well as race. This woman seems to work at a breathless pace and seems to find no escape from domestic drudgery. She is bound by the dogmas of patriarchy. There is no life for her outside of the domestic life.
However, for a woman like the speaker of the poem, there is a bleak sense of escape in nature. She is able to find some sort of solace and hence, after she has completed her work, she escapes her domestic boundaries into nature.
Thus, the poet does not limit herself to gynocentric concerns and finds the fine line between different types of prejudice. This can be taken as a fierce condemnation of prejudice of every stripe. She delineates the harsh reality of living as the Other, and her critique of the social hierarchy that perpetuates such discrimination and inevitable suffering is evoked in this poem.
The Main Themes In Maya Angelou’s Poem “On The Pulse Of Morning”
One cannot discuss Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” without providing proper background concerning the context within which it came to be. The first emergence of the poem came in January of 1993 at Bill Clinton’s initial inauguration into the presidency. It was the beginning of a new era for America; a new president, new goals, a new span of peacetime, new hope. The subject matter Angelou fleshed out throughout the poem was aligned with Clinton’s inaugural speech, creating an even greater sense of harmony for the American people. With this work, Maya Angelou became the first woman – and therefore first black woman – to speak at such an event, carving out a special place for her as one of the greatest poets of the past century.
A range of themes are touched upon as the poem progresses, though there is an underlying simmer of hope for the future within every stanza. The idea of alliance through our differences is noted when Angelou tells us that those of every belief have come together to hear the Tree share its wisdom, and, when it is insisted that it is up to all humans, men, woman, and child alike, to accept the challenge of altering the dilapidated condition of America into a country which they can stand behind proudly. It is also noticed when the River, the Rock, and the Tree claim that they will be there for all people; elderly, young, wealthy, or poor.
The theme of how it is impossible to erase history is seen as it is said how dinosaurs left all sorts of marks upon Earth that are unable to be altered, when the dark subjects of slavery and the annihilation of Native Americans by colonists are mentioned, and when Angelou declares the importance of remembering the past’s hardships to make it in the here and now.
Greed and its ability to debilitate humanity is touched upon several times. At one point the River explains how the result of manmade industry has littered hazardous waste all along her shoreline. The exploitation of Native American slave labor in the search for gold is mentioned, as well.
Another theme that I found in a couple of spots was that of division. The River is wise on this subject and talks about how every man acting as a nation with sealed borders does not make room for the possibility of working together to strive for the better, nor does it give way for peace. The River later refers to a more innocent time when man’s best insight was in acknowledging that he doesn’t know anything, and that we have now entered a time where man knows – at least – something, and due to this has become proud and cynical towards concepts such as peace and unity.
When considering the time and the context within which the poem was written, these themes and gave great depth to the poem. America, in the 1990’s, was a nation set on promoting a good rapport among the plethora of ethnicities represented here.
As far as literary devices, Angelou mainly makes use of personification; the act of giving a non-living thing a set of human traits. Within the poem, it is easy to see how the River, the Rock, and the Tree are gathered into this concept; each of them given a voice with which to share their memories of eras prior, their human-like emotions showcased as they put forth a sense of sadness and of hope for what mankind has, can, and will do. These objects offer to assist humans in their work to return to a more peaceful time, to help us all work together in harmony to further a simpler agenda.
When searching for a poem to work with for this assignment, I knew I wanted to use something from Maya Angelou’s arsenal. I have loved her writing since I was young – very young – as I was pushed into poetry by a mother who recognized my creative streak. While I don’t consider myself any sort of poet laureate, I do thoroughly enjoy reading poetry, and I have my mom and Maya Angelou to thank for it. I’m old enough to remember when she took the stage to read “On the Pulse of Morning” in Washington, DC, and though there were parts that my mom had to decipher for me at my ripe old age of 8, the poem still gave my tiny heart hope. After having just learned what racism was given events in my neighborhood at the time, and due to watching and inquiring about the LA Riots in 1992, it was encouraging to see a black woman speaking words of hope to the masses.
Explication: On Aging Poem By Maya Angelou
On Aging a poem by Maya Angelou, the poet describes feelings as an aging person, who is growing older and tired. Sharing how the elderly shouldn’t be pitied or secluded just because one is growing older and gets tired easier. “On Aging” teaches us that as a society that we have been either ignoring our elderly population or treating them like they are too frail to do things for themselves. Maya Angelou’s use of tone for this poem is what really sets this poem into motion.
The simile in this poem Maya compares herself to a bag sitting on a shelf. So that a connection that could be made from just those two lines alone would be that looking at this older woman sitting alone, like something we want to put up and away from harm, so they couldn’t be hurt or bothered with. Or even something that we have put up and pushed to the back of the shelf and forgotten. But then she quickly lets us know that we don’t need to pretend were interested in her or her day or even feel sorry for her just because she’s elderly. That the only way she wants us to interrupt her from her own thoughts is that if were genuinely interested and understand what she’s going through. Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!Hold! Stop your sympathy!Understanding if you got it,Otherwise I’ll do without it! (5-8)As the poet has grown older, somethings have become a little more difficult, and wants us to know her wishes: “I will only ask one favor/ don’t bring me no rocking chair” (11-12). The rocking chair represents more than just a chair, the poet doesn’t want to be put in a nursing home, or bound to wheel chair, and not be able to continue living the life like she has been for as long as possible. The poet wants us to see that even when walking shakily or stumbling that its not out of laziness. The poet wants to say that just because someone leaves doesn’t mean they are gone forever. That even though the poet has grown older, and her physical appearance has changed, and bodily functions are starting to deteriorate the poet is still the same person the poet was when the poet was younger.
This piece of didactic literature is a great reminder to the younger generations that while our family members or elders in society grow older. They my physically change with “A little less hair, a little less chin/ A lot less lungs and much less wind” (18-19). , but emotionally they still want to be recognized as a normal person. They don’t want us to feel bad or sorry for them because they are maybe a little slower or trying to re-learn how to do certain things as they get older. They want us to understand that things might take them a little longer, but they still want the freedom to do these things on their own. Then the poet wants to let us know that even though she is aging and growing older, she is still happy to be alive and breathing. And, that one should not to try to feel obligated to try to have a conversation out of sympathy, because while the poet might appear to be alone. That the poet might be thinking to herself, observing her own memories and looking back on her life. All the poet really wants is understanding and compassion, and if you can’t do that, then don’t do anything.
The Importance Of Overcoming Challenges In Caged Bird And Still I Rise By Maya Angelou
A bird resides in a cage. In ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou, the bird is restricted from any sort of freedom, and its feet are tied to constrict movement. However, the caged bird is relentless in its pursuit to sing of freedom. The obvious joy that the free bird takes in flying through the sky is made quite clear. In this case, this idea of freedom represents Angelou. In a society where African Americans are not treated as equals, where individuality and self-expression is reserved to upper class people, where making ends meet systematically excludes underprivileged minorities, Angelou points to the “escape” of reality where the bird can fly even when the world feels like it’s crashing down. Angelou is a strong example of perseverance and resilience, of which she alludes to in “Still I Rise.” She reveals the importance of overcoming challenges and being strong-willed against all odds.
In “Still I Rise”, Angelou discusses the importance of overcoming challenges and clinging on to hope that she may one day overcome injustice and prejudice. She also explores empowerment in which she must trust herself to propel herself in life. From the perspective of the oppressed, Angelou aims to combat the oppressor by reiterating the theme of individuality and empowerment. In stanza 6 Angelou writes, “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” (Angelou). Angelou comes off as thick-skinned and evokes such emotion through her writing. Her resilient behavior is revealed through her diction choice. She describes the effect of eyes cutting through to her like paper which paints an unpleasant image. I think she used the word ‘cut’ strategically to show that you can judge her through your eyes and try to cut her humanity, but she will still not fold. Words, like cuts, often form scars, but she is defiant in human nature to give up. Although these scars last, it doesn’t affect her quest towards her life. Angelou paints an image of people judging her, and she feels as though they see right through her. In stanza 4, she goes on to say, “Did you want to see me broken?/ Bowed head and lowered eyes?/ Shoulders falling down like teardrops/ Weakened by my soulful cries”. Teardrops flow when we cry, and she references to this to show how hate and prejudice evoked powerful emotions in her. She portrays that although people want her to fail, she will withstand all her hate. She also implies that a part of herself used to be broken, and that people wanted to tear her down since an early age. This speaks to the sense of pride she has that she won’t let outside noise dictate her feelings. Another quote that I would like to highlight is, “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/ I rise/ Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear/ I rise”. The use of repetition here and throughout the poem is so interesting to me. She continues to paint this image of fear and distress but implores the public that despite these various hardships, she came out on top. “Nights of terror and fear” implies that at some point she went through many mental battles, but she chose to pick herself up.
Throughout the poem we get the sense of her overall defiant tone and this is made clear through the use of rhetorical questions. In stanza 2, she opens up with “does my sassiness upset you?”, followed up by, “does my haughtiness offend you?” in stanza 5 (Angelou). This juxtaposition adds real effect to the overall intent of the poem, suggesting that Angelou wants to envision herself as the oppressor. In a way, it’s baiting us readers to see how ridiculous such accusations can sound like, and it opens up a discussion towards individuality. Her self-confidence can be misconstrued as arrogance, but really it’s her oppressors that share that arrogant mindset.
In “Caged Bird”, Angelou challenges the idea of bottling up emotions and living in a metaphorical cage of society by describing the exuberance of a joyous bird escaping that locked up mentality. In the first stanza, Angelou describes the “free” bird who “leaps… and dares to claim the sky”. That leap of faith is a representation of those overcoming challenges. The reality of this is directly challenged in the next stanza by the “caged” bird whose “wings are clipped and/his feet are tied”. Angelou’s characterization of the free bird and caged bird is a larger metaphor for herself. She feels as though society creates these barriers and conditions people to feel a certain way. With regards to oppression, her coming out moment is her visible success and her transparency to talk about such issues. Angelou challenges society’s notions and uses her life experiences to empower black men and women across the world.
In her biography article, Marcia Ann Gillespie dives deep into Maya Angelou’s life, referring to her early childhood and career accomplishments. She analyzed the significance of her work and how she resonated with it. Gillespie describes Angelou’s first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in detail by providing some context to her early life and the hardships she faced of being raped as a child. The trauma from going through that allows readers to see why her work is so emotionally provoking and powerful. Angelou describes her life with such precise detail in her literature and is so candid so that people could have learning moments. From the point of view of the author, Angelou is a very knowledgeable character and is charismatic, especially in the moments that they met with each other. Despite having a real relationship with Angelou, the author claims that “anyone who reads her memoirs and her poetry, who hears her speak in an auditorium or on a television show, knows who she is as well”. Basically, if you have read her work, you are exploring aspects of her life like a puzzle, and trying to connect with her.
The author revealed various things that Angelou valued, starting from spirit to sensuality. Spirit is what she looked to in times of distress to empower her and fill her up. From a religious perspective, Angelou believed that she was a gift from God. Through that spirituality, Gillespie recalls that she thought grace entered her life. Spirituality and sensuality are connected on a deeper level. Sensuality is essentially the idea of being present in the moment. It’s what makes humans humans. Everyone has different quirks that make them who they are. Sensuality is also fulfilled when you sit back and tell stories and engage with other people. In “Still I Rise”, for example, Angelou asserts herself as a broken, yet powerful person. Through the lens of White America and civil rights rhetorics, black people like her had it rough. Despite these hardships and experiences, Angelou was comfortable in her own skin and made it clear that oppression would not be her downfall. Angelou humanizes herself as she tells her story in the hopes that young people could have a stepping stone for hope.
Especially in tumultuous times, Angelou explains the value in friendships in which she claims that bonds help assert her strength. Healing is a big value in her life because she went through so much, stemming from rape as a child to everyday racism and judgment, feeling like an outcast, or just growing up Black in America. She had to heal emotionally and physically to be who she wanted to be. Her philosophy on giving is quite interesting: “We make a terrible mistake if we think we are doing service for others. That is a mistake. We do service for ourselves”. She finds the normalcy of being kind because you picture yourself from the other person’s perspective. Having a strong family bond is undeniably one of Angelou’s biggest values. In a place where she didn’t have much friends, her family had consistently been her biggest support system.
To conclude the essay, through her works of “Caged Bird” and “Still I Rise”, Angelou portrays empowerment and the call for hope in this world. Through diction and imagery, she creates a narrative that we, as a people, should break out of society’s shells and rise up against possible scrutiny. In a society where African Americans are not treated as equals, where individuality and self-expression is reserved to upper class people, where making ends meet systematically excludes underprivileged minorities, Angelou points to the “escape” of reality. She is a strong example of perseverance and resilience, of which she alludes to in “Still I Rise”. Angelou reveals the importance of overcoming challenges and clinging on to that hope.
Champion Of The World By Maya Angelou: A Victory Bigger Than The Ropes
“Champion of the World” is a chapter from a piece called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It tells a story of a boxing event and describes what being African American in the early 1900’s was like. The nineteenth chapter of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou starts off in a town in Arkansas in the late 1930’s. The African American community is huddled and packed completely in and outside a store the author’s grandmother and uncle owns to stay updated on a current boxing match via the radio. The match features a white contender against the current heavyweight title holder, Joe Louis.
Joe Louis, also known as the “Brown Bomber”, was “a hero to black people” in a time where prejudice against people of color was very prevalent. Considering this, Louis winning the match and maintaining his heavyweight title would be a prideful and empowering moment for Black men and their families. Maya Angelou in the chapter, “Champion of the World”, tells a short story about listening to a boxing match between a black man and a white man to highlight the thoughts of someone from the black community affected by racial prejudice in a white society at the time.
The writer uses dialogues and quotations to accurately portray how the fight play by play was described and the reactions from around her to every part of it. Before the fight begins and as everyone is settling in, many comments are being made in the store of how confident everyone is in Joe Louis winning this match. “I ain’t worried about this fight. Joe’s gonna whip that cracker like it’s open season” someone says. The fight, to their dismay, starts with “A quick jab to the head” to Louis. Louis tries to “fight his way out” and he finally pushes his contender away. After a bit of back and forth, Louis is cornered again and “the contender keeps raining the blows on Louis” despite the referee trying to stop him.
When it seems like Louis is losing the round, Angelou anxiously and effectively sheds light on the bigger picture because she gives relatable examples for the reader to understand her sentiment towards the match. She begins her response to Louis’ condition with “My race groaned. It was our people falling”. She continues with mentioning the common atrocities that black individuals fear facing to effectively describe how Louis losing represents something bigger: lynching, black women being raped, black boys being “whipped and maimed”, and the white being violent and discriminatory towards the black in many other ways. The room gets heavy as everyone pictures Joe Louis losing the heavyweight title. Angelou heavyheartedly compares him losing to the end of the world and being back in slavery. She describes the many ways black individuals are characterized and described by racism, “…lower types of human beings.
Only a little higher than apes. True that we were stupid and ugly and lazy and dirty and, unlucky and worst of all, that God Himself hated us…”. A white man taking away the win from a black man meant one more way that white people will be able to show dominance and strength over black people. The fight gets intense. Louis acts fast, fights back, and wins! “Champion of the world. A Black boy. Some Black mother’s son. He was the strongest man in the world”. Everyone celebrates the victory in and around the store with eating and drinking. Individuals who lived far away chose to stay nearby in the fear of being on a “lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis had proved that we were the strongest people in the world.”