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Category: Maya Angelou – And Still I Rise

Where we Belong – A Duet – Maya Angelou

The opening stanza of this poem has a lively and optimistic rhythm, emphasised by the repeated openings of the first three lines.  The short line length, and the full rhyme on lines 3 and 4 also emphasise this rhythm.  The last two lines are a contrast, changing the tone and introducing an element of discord and shock to the reader as the writer introduces the idea of loneliness.

The second stanza summarises the history of her love life, and her search for significance through this – “mysterious meanings”.  There is an element of realistic description that is not that common with Maya Angelou in the “half-lighted cocktail bars”, whilst the rhyme “poolrooms/ schoolrooms” emphasises the banal nature of these relationships.  She was relaxed, it was a game, she says later in the stanza.

The third stanza probably suggests a universality to this search for love rather than bi-sexuality.  The scenes of love making continue to be banal – “dusty” and drab or false and artificial – “debutante balls”.  She is lonely, and ironically falls in love “forever” a couple of times a year; she gave herself in love, but was always let down.

Angelou uses her trademark imagery of the sun rising to introduce the “you” who is the solution to her loneliness – a theme, or leit motif of the anthology if you like.  The full rhyming couplet which concludes the poem emphasises the impact of this new love.

It’s interesting that Angelou places such faith in romantic love, and that she now believes, probably in defiance of logic, that this new love is the true, forever one.  I don’t suppose she could be being ironic?  Not likely, bearing in mind the title and theme of the anthology “And so I rise”.  This is one of her ways of rising.

This poem and dating…!

Maya Angelou – Lady Luncheon Club

This poem from the anthology And Still I Rise could be used to support the argument that Angelou is more than a feminist poet.  It seems to apportion blame equally to the female organiser and the male speaker at this luncheon club.

The very word luncheon – middle class, favoured, old fashioned, refined – is a direct contrast to the jobless streets, and indicates the protected and privileged environment she lives in.  This idea of privilege and wealth is emphasised by the golden watch.  She is going through the motions – he is paid from the petty cash – not much then.  She notes next time the / Speaker must be brief: there is no real interest in the topics of homelessness and child abuse that he is talking about – this woman is self centred.  She is preoccupied with the coffee, and the cake, thinking perhaps of the image they will present of her luncheon, or maybe just preoccupied with her decadent lifestyle.

The man too is apparently shallow – going through the motions – he summons sincerity like a favoured pet – he calls up the mood, rather than speaking from the overflow of his feelings – he lacks sincerity.  Angelou is being ironic when she claims he understands the female rage.  Eve and Delilah have long been considered archetypes, stereotypes of dishonest and scheming women – this man is not a feminist – and whilst he raises important social issues – alcoholism, child abuse, unemployment – the audience are only going through the motions, not really listening.

Finally – imperiously – she claps her hands: she is in control, dismissive, selfish, thinking only of her own boredom, unaffected by the problems he has described.

Book Reviews

Walking in England

Maya Angelou – To Beat the child was bad enough

The literal meaning of this poem is not immediately clear, but the fragments of images give a strong impression of its feeling and mood.

The poem opens with descriptions emphasising the child’s vulnerability – young.. light; it talks about the promise of the young life – seeds bursting – a promise which is clearly broken by the end of the poem.  The comparison with broken glass, the shards of broken air – indicates the painful consequences of abuse.

Despite the apparent optimism and innocence of the opening, there is another side implied by the image of winter sunshine – cold and faint – suggesting again the vulnerability of the child.  The image of the string of silence is suggestive, but the meaning is uncertain.  The child is hung from this which might imply pain or being trapped, caught; perhaps the silence reflects the role of the abused child, the loss of its voice: children who are abused suffer in silence, their abuse is in secret.  Alternatively, perhaps more simply, the string is the umbilical cord on which the child literally hangs, awaiting its future.

The conclusion of the first section of the poem implies violent change – new hands, strange voices…tearing, but the image of the boiling water seems very personal, its meaning, symbolic or otherwise, unclear.  In the end the child submits, in terror to the abuser, withdrawing from human contact, submitting only in the flesh.  This is an interesting choice of language with the possibility of biblical and religious allusions – the sins of the flesh, or ironically the one flesh of marriage: this relationship of abuse is a travesty of that loving relationship.

Does the poem end in peace?  Beyond the hunger there is the peace of strange hands. Again the references here seem very personal.  Does the hunger just link with the boiling water, so that the abuse happened in a kitchen?  These elements seem deliberately obscure, perhaps reflecting the confusion of the child.  Certainly the conclusion of the poem suggests shock and trauma: A young body floats.  Silently.  There is a sense of disconnectedness and confusion emphasised by the short, abrupt sentences.

NSPCC

Prevent Child Abuse

Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman

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.

Maya Angelou – And Still I Rise


Maya Angelou’s And Still I Rise contains some poems I know well – Woman Work for example – a very simple poem which trades on the contrast between its rushed and simple opening section – a shopping list of jobs to do – and the lyrical second half, focusing on natural beauty.  It’s a microcosm of the whole anthology, as Angelou rises out of the ashes of her experiences as a black woman – shine on me sunshine.

Angelou covers feminism and racism in ways, and from a point of view, that was radical and shocking when her work was first published.  This anthology begins with physical abuse – lover’s fist.  It continues with a neat epigrammatic poem, Country Lover, a satirical comment on some men’s attitudes to women.  Her lines and vocabulary are simple; there are strong rhythms which give the poetry power and confidence, as in Phenomenal Woman, and usually simple images in which light and the sun play a large part.

Not only women find escape and beauty in Angelou’s poems – in California Prodigal for example it is he whose agile poppies dance/ In golden riot.  The images are of colour and power – explosions, dancing, defiance.  Throughout Angelou uses imagery like this – beautiful, natural – to present her characters.

At times her writing is so simple that it is like verse for children – Life doesn’t frighten me, or Aint that bad? – but it is direct and effective.  In other poems she is able to make powerful comments by using very simple ideas and precise description – My Arkansas for example – or to make satirical points neatly and with wit – as in Lady Luncheon Club.