Sunday Poet: Maya Angelou

Dr Maya Angelou has changed autobiographical writing forever for all women, but especially for black women.

I cannot tell you how much I love Dr Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise and there is something so special about hearing her recite the poem herself rather than reading it – you really get a sense of how joyful and funny she can be. But really, this is a poem for your darkest moments, it has such a comforting sense of resilience to it even though it is about some of the most God-awful impacts of slavery and institutional racism one can possibly imagine.

(The version in the video clip is ever so slightly different to her written poem).

And 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.

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
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.

Categories: arts & entertainment, crisis, gender & feminism, history, social justice, Sociology

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5 replies

  1. Thanks, I very much needed to read something like this to counter my urge to headdesk over the reaction of some parts of white fandom to The Hunger Games movie casting some POC actors when the book’s author clearly wrote those characters as POC (Rue’s “satiny brown skin”, and just about every reference to District 11’s plantation system).

  2. Not meaning to make this a Hunger Games thread, but I’m sure I read an intelligent analysis of Katniss as part Native American. Just imagine the white fans if they’d chosen an appropriate actor to represent that! (bearing in mind how many people manage to miss that Ged from Wizard of Earthsea is brown skinned.)

    • Given how Angelou’s poem is explicitly about the denial of the humanity of women of colour, I don’t think we’re straying too far off topic, Aqua! (although if blue milk disagrees, I’ll take the Hunger Games discussion to the Open Thread).
      I like the fact that Jennifer Lawrence is from Kentucky, where there historically has been a lot of mining. Of course I have no idea whether her upbringing was anywhere near a working mine, but at least it’s some sort of connection.

  3. Tigtog – for a variety of reasons I was thinking of you when I posted this poem. Glad you liked seeing it here.

  4. I adore you for posting this. I went and looked up Phenomenal Woman after I watched this because that’s another one of Angelou’s poems that cheers me up no matter what.

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