Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise: Summary and Analysis
Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ is like a bird’s liberty song that loves a free life. Its flight makes you jealous but noone can stop it from flying. While the poem is emotional in tone and evokes defiant or rather rebellious feelings, it also has a larger appeal that is everlasting. The appeal of the work mainly lies in the use of simple words for creation of universal meaning. The poem rebukes and scorns those who have wanted to see blacks as slaves and strikes angrily but is still very romantic. This is what makes the piece attractive – the element of romantic fury and defiant emotions in it.
Apart from everything, the poem is full of energy and inspires to lift your head against every adversity. Hatred and greed cannot be eliminated but that must not stop you from rising and fighting. The beauty of the poem lies in its simplicity. The underlying pain and the tragedy give it a slightly painful tone. However, that acts to inject more beauty into the poem. It reminds of the pain against which these people have fought to retain their identity and build their destiny. Like the ‘I have A Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr, the repetition of ‘I rise’ in the poem lays emphasis on the dream of sharing the same platform with whites and having a status of equality.
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.
The first stanza of the poem begins with the injustice history has done to the poor black people and how their popular image has been being manipulated. While the poet gives a powerful blow on the one hand to discrimination and slavery, on the other she evokes a picture of hope that the flame God lit could never be extinguished by men. The poor and the downtrodden will rise and fight for their liberty. You try to bring us down and we again fly like dust in the air. There is a light touch of rebellion and a hard doze of defiance in these lines.
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.
The second stanza also speaks in a defiant tone. What is it in me that makes you hate me? Is it my appeal or is it my nature? Even in adversity, we have learnt to smile. “like oil wells.. in my living room”. I am richer than the richest because I am brimming with this rebellious energy and you can feel depressed to see me happy unless you really love me. Your hatred gives me energy and does not stop me from rising. These lines speak against poverty and lack of equality of opportunity. People of color in America face the highest unemployment rates and the poem briefly alludes to the poverty of the black people. However, more than the poverty, it is their exploitation that pains the poet.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
The weather changes, ttides change and the spring of hope keeps flowing. Like this spring, I rise. These lines are beautiful like a dream for they are full of imagery sourced from nature. “Hopes springing high” indicates the indomitable energy found inside those hearts that have born slavery for centuries and still never lost their battle against hatred, exploitation and oppression.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
For generations they had remained slaves, bowing their heads, tied to their master’s will and obeying without question. White people would want them to remain so. They would like to see them again bowing their heads, with weakened souls and unable to stand against their oppressors. The lines speak of the determination in the hearts of the African Americans to fight against every form of exploitation and oppression.
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.
The poet asks if the people who want her and her people to remain slaves will not be offended by her pride. Do not people really hate my free behaviour and the way I laugh over adversities. The African Americans laugh whole heartedly like no one is richer than them and they have got gold mines in their backyard. However, it does not indicate meanness but that they have learnt to cover the wounds inflicted by centuries of oppresion and learnt to smile back.
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.
What keeps a person from bowing before hatred and oppression. It is sheer determination. If you want to use your hateful words to destroy me you can. Your hateful look cannot kill me or stop me because they will give me more energy to rise. While slavery was abolished long agao, discrimination has not been yet fully eliminated from the US society. However, discrimination and abuse will never extinguish hope.
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?
Are you upset by the color of my skin and by dance moves? Does the energy in my dance make you feel weakened? These lines evoke a suggestive picture. When I dance it seems like I am hiding a precious treasure between my thighs. It is only the glory of my youth. Does not it surprise and upset you because I know it does. This pattern of asking questions and answering them makes the poem amusing as well as interesting but at the same time doiubles the sarcasm in the poem. It acts to strengthen the scorn in the poem and highlights how hard these people have fought to win their freedom and how hard they will fight to retain it. The tone of the poem is however more universal. It is not just about the oppression of black people at the hands of the whites, but about every form of oppression whether that of a woman by a man or a man trying to dominate another.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
The poem is also an inspiration for the modern generation of people of color. Their ancestors fought through darkness to make way for a beautiful tomorrow. Out of a history of pain, humiliation and sorrow, they have come out like a black current. With their sheer determination and will, they can turn the tide. However, vengeful methods you try, you cannot stop someone from rising.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Those years of slavery were like a night of fear and darkness. They have made past it into a day of glory where freedom awaits them. This is a gift from the poet’s ancestors, the fruit of their struggles. The new generation is the culmination of their dreams and will struggle harder than them to take their race to new heights. This rise is unstoppable.
Rhyming scheme: The rhyming scheme is abcb until the last two stanzas where it changes into abcc and aabb.