1 April 2021 Susannah

Maya Angelou & Still I Rise

Maya Angelou

In view of all the women’s marches that have taken place recently, my poem is an appropriate choice. Maya Angelou’s fabulous poem Still I Rise was first published in her third volume of poems in 1978.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

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.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

It is a powerful poem, drawing on the harrowing experiences of being an African American in the USA, and yet it also gives a strong message of liberation and hope. It celebrates self-love and self-acceptance, with a recognition that nothing can hold her back and she will ‘rise’ above it all. The poet addresses herself lovingly and with pride. The poem is an anthem for the depressed and downtrodden. It has remained one of her most popular poems.

Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) grew up in the ‘Jim Crow’ Deep South. She was raped as a young girl and the trauma of that event left her mute. While unable to speak, she took refuge in poetry. When she longed to share her love of poems with others, she began to speak once more. She then started to write poetry and also went on to write plays. Her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, to great acclaim.

Listen to a Maya Angelou performing Still I Rise – Live and Unplugged

I think this is a beautiful poem, with its rather unusual word order and wonderful musicality in its varied rhythm and rhyme. And even though it is describing grey weather, it is such a wonderfully positive poem ending as it does with the words “unvanquished sun”.

November in the northern hemisphere can be a challenging month. It is not cheered by the festivities of December, and because it is early winter, the months of cold and darkness seem to stretch on forever. But Freeman finds a beauty in the season and notes the way colour creeps into the “leaden interfolds” of the clouds and captures the movement of the “huge great clouds” before rain. He makes us see the varied tones of grey – leaden, silver, deep grey – and makes us feel that they can be perhaps even more beautiful than the brighter rose and amber of a sunnier day.

Listen to a Maya Angelou performing Still I Rise – Live and Unplugged

Leave a comment.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until approved.


Featured image credit- Maya Angelou, Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MayaAngelou/
Body image credit- Maya Angelou, from https://www.facebook.com/SSAmWW/

Comments (6)

  1. Maria

    Fabulous poem! Thank you for sharing ii and the reading by Angelou, which is very special. I will listen to it again with my daughter.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, and very appropriate with all that women have been going through recently.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *