“On the Pulse of Morning” Analysis

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

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 were 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 positive relations 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.

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