For this post we’re going to take a look at the classic empowering poem written by Maya Angelou in the late ‘70s, titled Still I Rise. Let's take a moment to read the author's thoughtful words before diving in deeper.
Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread 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 back yard.
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
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.
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.
After a close reading of this poem, we see the speaker of the poem speaking out against oppression, and particularly the people who have brought this oppression on her. These oppressors are “bitter” and have the intention to bring the speaker down through harsh language and hateful glares. But despite this, the poem’s speaker stays poised and confident that she will rise above it all.
I think the most important takeaway from this iconic piece is that Maya Angelou’s speaker refuses to play into the tension and violence that she has experienced firsthand. Instead, the speaker takes the high road, choosing to figuratively rise above the hate rather than countering with more spite towards her oppressors. The speaker comparing her ascension to imagery of nature also strengthens this message. The imagery of something natural like the sun constantly rising despite what happens in the darkness is quite powerful in the context of society trying to rise above the negativity.
The story and message of Angelou’s poem were written with the historical contexts to slavery and civil rights issues at the time, but we can even take its themes for today and apply it to our everyday lives. To anyone that has ever felt bullied, cast aside, or treated wrong for being any type of outsider, this poem is for you. Just know that even in the face of all the bitterness and negativity that may surround you on a daily basis, we can all stand up for ourselves in a positive manner without bringing anyone else down.