Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman

by Senior reader

Maya Angelou addressed this poem, which is from And Still I Rise, to other women – to pretty women.  So, It’s not an assertion of the power of women, but of the self worth of this woman – the poet.  She is proud, and finds pleasure in her own individuality. She is a Phenomenal Woman.  It is this that makes the poem so typical of the late twentieth century – a period in which the individual was pre-eminent – sometimes at the expense of morality and truth.  If there are no absolute truths, where else can truth be found, but in the individual?

There is a great sense of power in this verse, and the second half of each stanza is especially strong rhythmically – It’s in the reach of my arms / The span of my hips / The stride of my step.  The poet cleverly repeats the underlying grammatical structure whilst changing the actual words she uses, both emphasising and broadening our understanding of her natural power and beauty.  There is sexuality – the swing in my waist, and images that are typical of Angelou – fire and sun.  The poem is full of movement – stride, swing, ride – and this vocabulary emphasises her energy and power.

Angelou uses simple vocabulary and rhymes, size, lies, please, knees.  These show us the simple, uncomplicated confidence she has in herself, an aspect of the poem also emphasised by the short dramatic conclusions she draws – I’m a woman…..Phenomenal woman / that’s me.