Analysis of Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise"

Essay by angelfacebtch544 May 2004

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The poem I have chosen to write a detailed description and interpretation of is Maya Angelou's 'Still I Rise'. In analysing the chosen poem I will be considering the ways in which my own knowledge, experience and cultural identity might have an influence in the way I have read and interpreted the poem.

This poem is very strong and powerful, as a reader I can sense this in the title of the poem, 'still I rise'. If the reader does not know the origin of the author I guess that it will be hard to tell what the poem is actually about and whom it is targeted to. We find the answer to whom the poem is written about in the last stanza (where it mentions 'slaves' 'ancestors'); from this I could tell that it is a poem about the author herself who is a black African American women and the painful past of black people.

I would say that the poem reflects the rising of the status of black people in America as well as other countries. In the first verse the rhythmic pattern is of a regular 9. 7, 9, syllable pattern until the last line where the pattern of the syllables change to 6, '²But ^Still,| 0/00like Shdust, |

I find this poem quite funny and sarcastic in the way Maya asks questions within the poems verses. These questions, with no doubt, I would say are asked to the 'white people' or the 'haters' of the origin the author is. 'Does my sassiness upset you?' 'Why are you beset with gloom?' I suppose Maya is being some what playful in asking these questions, because she knows she is wealthy and she knows that she has come along way as well as the black people in America, to ask these questions in a playful way, to the people who do not appreciate her and also who are surprised of the success she has reached.

There are many multisyllabic words in each of the verses and there is a rhythmic flow of the poem as I read it out loud to myself. . The second verse has a regular rhythm pattern of 8,7,8,7, syllable lines, which is also the same for verses four, five and seven, the rest of the verses seem to have some type of syllable sound pattern to them, but not as regular as verses four, five and seven. This is shown in the third verse for instant, The first and third line both have a steady metrical flow of six syllables where the words 'moons' and 'suns' are stressed, the third line has a line of seven syllables, where the words 'hopes' and 'high' are stressed, when reading the verse I thought that the fourth line would be the same (but it wasn't), The fourth line contains three syllables, '²Still | ^I'll 0/00rise', this stops the flow of verse in a sudden way which makes that line stand out; in a way that line is the focal point of that verse thus being intentionally structured like so; in this line the stress is mainly on the 'Still' and 'Rise'.

The bold yet playful questions Maya asks are shown in the first lines of each verses of four, five and seven, 'Does my haughtiness offend you?' 'Does my sexiness upset you?' 'Did you want to see me broken?' The answers Maya gives to these rhetorical questions applied are very figurative and somewhat funny. An example of this is in the second stanza, 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells. Pumping in my living room,' obviously that cant be true , but it's a very good way the simile is used to give a description of how the author carry's herself and how she is shown to others eyes. If I had oil wells pumping in my living room, I suppose I would walk around as if I haven't a care in the world, with my head up high; so I understand how that certain line compares to how the author, or successful black people carry them selves. Again in verse five the use of a simile, as a description of how the author acts is understood, 'Cause I laugh like I have gold mines. Digging in my back yard'. Obviously she hasn't got gold mines in her back yard, but when I was reading this line I was imagining how a person would laugh if they did have gold mines in their back yard; quite loud with your mouth wide open I believe. Looking at the fourth line of verse seven 'That I dance like I have diamonds in the meeting of my thighs', I thought, how would one dance as if they have diamonds at the meeting of their thighs? Once again I had to imagine myself actually having expensive diamonds between my legs, (what a thought), I suppose I would want everyone to see them, so I would dance in a sexy and provocative way so that my diamonds can be seen; thus coming back to the beginning of this verse, 'Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come to a surprise that I dance like I've ...'. The use of similes are quite obvious when I was reading this poem especially in the last lines of verses one and two, 'But still, like dust, I'll rise.' 'But still, like air, I'll rise.' Both of the similes, dust and air do rise. Air rises around us and dust rises when disturbed. Air gives a sense of uplifting feeling, as a result Maya is rising feeling refreshed and light; dust on the other hand gave me the sense of awake ness or 'not dead yet', feeling, which dust has when it is awaken from its resting place, whether it be on the mantle piece or on a table; dust does not die but is always around and rises when provoked (or cleaned off from the mantle piece or table) to show that its still there.

The whole poem has a feeling of lighthearted humour, yet strength contained in the words and metaphorical and figurative ways in which Maya has introduced these to the reader. I did some background reading on the life of Maya and found that she had a very tough upbringing, being black and female and also from a dysfunctional family this I believe has made her what she is today, a very strong and talented women, due to the fact that she grew up and took on responsibilities so young in her life and gained so much knowledge from being independent and young. From reading the poem I can maybe understand why the strong and emotional words are used. This poem, to me, suggests that Maya has gone through hard times in her life mainly due to the fact that she is a black female. I presume that people have called her names and put her down but this has not affected her at all, she simply gets over this and pushes her greatness in her enemy's or haters faces.

In the sixth verse I came across three important and strong verbs that are used in the first, second and third lines, 'you may shoot me with your words. You may cut me with your eyes. You may kill me with your hatefulness.' This is a good example of the metaphors used in this poem. To shoot some one with words would be to say hateful, quick and hurtful things to a person (This is how I imagined it when I read this verse); the bullets of a gun shoot out quick and do hurt, even kill, depending on how the gun is aimed, as a result the word 'shoot', I found was a good metaphor to use as well as the other two words 'kill' and cut'; these words intend harm.

The last verse is a total change compared to the way the other verses in the poem are structured. As it is the last verse I feel that this has been made the final and most exaggerated verse of all. This verse contains rhythm, rhyming lines, repetition and metaphorical uses all in just that one last verse; its as if Maya structured this verse with intent to have that effect on the reader, and make them think that what ever form of structure the other verses may have been missing, this verse has it all. As said earlier in the poem I talked about the rhyming pattern in the lines of this verse and how the vowels are stressed in each word. Its in this verse that I found out the main point of the poem, which is about black slavery and how black people have suffered so much pain and terror in the past but still have risen from this, through the many generations. The two syllable word 'I rise' are the two words in this verse that stand out and break the regular pattern of the rhythm and rhyme within the verse, these two words are repeated through out this poem and especially in this verse. The fifth sixth and seven lines are very interesting, the first thing that sprung to mind was a wave of black people growing and spreading, which coincides with the three lines. 'I'm the black ocean, leaping and wide, welling and swelling I bear in the tide'. The way I have interpreted these two lines is, the black ocean being the vast amount of black people breaking free and scattering wide and far through out the world; the words welling and swelling suggest the increasing number of black people. The seventh line, 'Leaving behind nights of terror and fear', can signify how the black Africans have shown their success in the world by, holding their heads up high, despite the terror and suffering their family and ancestors may have gone through in the past.

The ninth eleventh and twelfth line concludes the last verse and the poem as a whole. 'Into daybreak that's wondrously clear, I rise', this line indicates how the black Africans as well as Maya herself have risen into a clear and bright life; the words 'daybreak' and 'clear' suggests this to me while I was reading this verse. The twelfth line implies that Maya and all triumphant black Africans are the dreams and hopes of what the slaves used to long for. This verse ends with the use of repetition clearly shown, 'I rise, I rise, I rise. What I thought, as I read this part, was that Maya has shown to us through this poem, that how no matter what is said to her she shows everyone that nothing can stop her from being a successful person, despite her black roots. The last three lines suggest that this self-sense of victorious feeling within the African black community in the world, is still rising. I find the ending of the poem has a open ending, meaning that the words, 'I rise' seems to portray a none immediate ending in the conclusions of the poem; to rise is to ascend higher to god knows where, maybe space, so there fore the last three lines represent the increase of the freedom of black people and the increase of Maya Angelou's success till... god knows when!