here is my explication of maya angelou's "still i rise"...
the italics are the actual poem and the regular font is my commentary...
and thoughts about this would be great...
Still I Rise
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.
Angelou, in this first four line stanza, talks about being described negatively. This can be the result of the history during the time that Angelou
grew up in, when segregation was legal in the United States. The “bitter” and “twisted lies” can represent the racist statements that people
made and thought during this time, and even now. Line three may describe the physical hate crimes that took place against African Americans. She uses
the word “dust” in line four, to mirror the fact that she will rise despite all these negativities against her. It is ironic that Angelou uses the
analogies of “dirt” and “dust,” instead of something more appealing, to represent that she will rise. The childish saying “sticks and stones
may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a theme in this stanza. The use of the first person in this stanza is not limited to the first
person. While reading this stanza, the reader may become aware that the use of the first person can be applied to African Americans as a whole. Lines
two (“lies”) and four (“rise”) rhyme but the others do not. This design continues through the poem until the last three stanzas.
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 first two lines of this stanza illustrate two polar opposites. These opposites are “sassiness,” in line one, and “gloom,” in line two. The
answer to the question asked in line one may be “yes.” If this is true, then the reason the reader is “beset with gloom” may be because of the
author, Maya Angelou. Again, the use of the first person can be applied to the African American people. The “sassiness” of the culture and history
of African Americans may be all the reason to have the reader being inundated with “gloom.” The answer to the question asked in line two is than
answered in lines three and four. One can imagine how wealthy he or she would be if that person had “oil wells pumping” in their “living
room.” The reader, possibly representing a person who supported segregation or even a racist, would be filled with “gloom” and surprised about a
black poet being wealthy. Additionally, Angelou may have pride as it is not likely that she has “oil wells pumping” in her “living room.” Even
if she isn’t that wealthy, she gives the appearance that she has wealth. “Gloom” in line two and “room” in line four rhyme but the other
lines in this stanza do not.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.
The first three lines build up to the fourth line in this stanza. “Just like moons” and “like suns” exist, the author will rise. Just as it is
certain that their will be tides in various oceans, the author will rise. Finally, just as “hopes” spring “high,” the author will rise. The
theme of inevitability is present in this stanza. The use of the first person, possibly representing African Americans, can show that no matter what
is thrown at them, African Americans will rise. The use of positive inevitabilities in the first three lines, show that the “rise” of the author
is not a negative thing, but a beautiful thing. Lines two (“tides”) and four (“rise”) rhyme, but the other lines in this stanza do not.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
The first two lines in this stanza are questions that, like line one in stanza two, may have a “yes” answer. If the reader is meant to represent
an advocator of segregation, then the answers to those two questions could reasonably be “yes.” A deeper understanding may bring the reader to
associate the word “broken” with the breaking of various African American slaves. Describing the “shoulders falling” like “teardrops” go
together well with the words “eyes” and “cries.” The image of eyes is present in this stanza. “Eyes,” in line two, and “cries,” in
line four rhyme, but the other lines do not.
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.
The first line of this stanza is a question, as are the first lines of stanzas two and four. Like the previous questions, the answer may certainly be
“yes.” This hypothesis is justified by the second line in this stanza. Angelou warns the reader to not let her “haughtiness” offend the reader
“awful hard.” The imagery of wealth, that is present in stanza two, is used again in the last two lines of this stanza. The speaker laughs as if
she has “gold mines diggin” in her “own backyard.” It is important to notice that Angelou uses the word “like” in line three. She is not
bragging about her wealth in this stanza. She is using the imagery of wealth to depict that she is happy. The rhyme scheme that is persistent in this
poem continues in this stanza. “Hard” in line two rhymes with “yard” in line four, but the other lines of this stanza do not rhyme.
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.
As in stanzas one and three, the first three lines build up to the fourth line in this stanza. In the first three lines of this stanza, Angelou uses
physical actions to mirror non-physical things in the context of the poem. The physical action in the first line mirrors what non-physical thing the
reader may “shoot” at Angelou, “words.” Additionally, the physical action in the second line mirrors what non-physical thing the reader may
“cut” with, “eyes.” Finally, the physical action in the third line mirrors what non-physical thing the reader may “kill” with,
“hatefulness.” Angelou, in the last line, uses the analogy of “air” to depict that she will “rise.” The second line (“eyes”) rhymes
with the third line (“rise”), but the other lines in this stanza do not rhyme.
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?
Again, like in previous stanzas, a question is asked in the first line. Additionally, the answer may, repetitiously, be “yes.” Angelou then asks
if it is a “surprise” that she dances as if she has “diamonds” in between her “thighs.” The image of “diamonds” is used
metaphorically in this stanza. Angelou is not describing her wealth, per se, in this stanza. On the contrary, it is possible that she is describing
her wealth in “sexiness.” The rhyme scheme continues as “surprise,” in the second line, and “thighs,” in the fourth line, rhyme and the
other do not.
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 earlier conviction of this poem being somewhat related to the history of African Americans is augmented in this stanza. The “huts” in the
first line, may be the huts that impoverished Africans survive in. “History’s shame” may represent the shame of slavery that African Americans
feel. The “past” that is “rooted in pain,” may represent the pains of slavery. Being African American herself, Angelou does have a “past”
that is “rooted” with the “pain” of slavery. Angelou being “a black ocean, leaping and wide” may represent her being a beautiful
(“ocean”) black woman, with a long line of history (“wide”) that is ahead of her time (“leaping”). Also, Angelou being “wide” can
represent that she is growing in some aspect of reality and Angelou “leaping” can represent that she is jumping over obstacles. In the last line
of this stanza, Angelou is “swelling” as she bears “in the tide.” The “tide” can represent all the negativities that she faces and the
“swelling” can represent that, despite all the evils she faces, she will swell, like a balloon does, and rise. This stanza has a different rhyme
scheme than the previous stanzas. “Shame,” in the first line, and “pain,” in the third line, rhyme as do “wide,” in the fifth line, and
“tide,” in the sixth line.
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.
In the first line of this stanza, Angelou leaves “behind nights of terror and fear.” These “nights of terror and fear” could be the result of
the hate crimes against African Americans that took place in Angelou’s time. In lines two and three, Angelou rises “into a daybreak that’s
wondrously clear.” This “daybreak” can be the beginning of a new era with equal opportunity and rights for all. This new era would be “black
and white,” and people would have an obvious mentality of right and wrong. If this is the case, it would certainly be “wondrously clear.” The
justification for the poem being related to the history of African Americans is finally realized with lines five and six of this stanza. Angelou
brings “the gifts” that her “ancestors gave.” These gifts could be peace offerings to her wrongdoers. Angelou describes herself as “the
dream and the hope of the slave.” Angelou, has equal opportunity and equal rights because of the abolishment of slavery and the correction of
segregation. She is truly the “dream and the hope” of the common “slave,” as she has equal rights, equal opportunity, and she is happy.
Angelou, and African Americans as a whole, rise up despite all the evils that they faced, and continue to face.