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Book Title: And Still I Rise|
The author of the book: Maya Angelou
ISBN 13: 9780394502526
Edition: Random House
Date of issue: August 12th 1978
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 6.29 MB
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Reader ratings: 7.4
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Maya Angelou is an inspirational figure, admired the world over for her sensitivity, passion, and advocacy of black rights; she was a vigorous activist, especially with regard to women. The world lost a remarkable influential figure when she died.
So what is her poetry actually like? The word "inspirational" is bandied around today to include all sort of cant and twaddle. I must admit to being apprehensive at the start. Although by the time this collection had been published, Maya Angelou had received over thirty honorary degrees from colleges and universities all over the world, there is a lurking suspicion that this is for the person herself; her overcoming of almost unimaginable hardships, plus her achievements in society and the legislative progress, rather than strictly academic prowess. After all, her poetry is thought to be populist, and has not received much serious critical attention. Would Maya Angelou's poetry turn out to be over-simplistic rhetoric, or sanctimonious versifying?
Thankfully, the answer is no. The poems match the figurehead. She does speak to the people; she speaks to aspects of humanity we all have within us. There is diversity; much variation of mood and style. Sometimes the language used is direct and repetitive. Her much-lauded "Phenomenal Woman", "Woman Work" and the title poem for this collection, "And Still I Rise" all conform to this type. These are accessible to those who may not regularly read poetry. Many women have felt a personal connection, or significance, saying that one such poem speaks to them - that it is their own experience. "And Still I Rise" has been called an anthem for the entire black race.
But some poems are significantly darker and embittered. Some have more variant forms, jerky spasmodic rhythms, elusive and sensual language. Some are pain-filled, some outrageous. Some are filled with despair. These are not all "feel-good" poems by any means. And they are not always "easy" to read, in any sense of the word.
The collection And Still I Rise is Maya Angelou's third volume of poetry, and was first published in 1978. Angelou was well into her stride as a writer by now. As well as the two former volumes of poetry, she had also written three of her autobiographies; she tended to alternate between the two. This collections is made up of 32 short poems, and is divided into three parts.
1. Touch Me, Life, Not Softly
3. And Still I Rise
In the very first poem we are confronted with cruelty and abuse,
"Hate often is confused. Its
Limits are in zones
beyond itself ..."
The dark theme is mirrored by a spiky, disjointed structure. The next two poems describe the experience of black youth, giddy, earthy and sensual. The next begins with feeling of isolation, loneliness in the crowds,
"I searched the faces
Hoping to find
Someone to care"
but ends with connection,
"I've never been so strong,
Now I'm where I belong"
It is noticeable that Angelou's rhymes are often in rhythmic couplets, and come either as a refrain, or at the end of a poem, where she wants to add extra emphasis. The following poem "Phenomenal Woman" is an example of an even more spare exaggeration, where the author plays with the word "phenomenal", and the whole poem has a bouncy, upbeat and playful rhythm. It is a poem of self-assertion and humour. I have reviewed this poem separately link here, in a different edition.
But the optimism does not last long. With the next poem, "Men" the reader is back to youth, entrapment, fear and oppression,
"... The hurt begins,
Wrench out a
Smile that slides around
the fear ..."
And we are also back to the dislocation of words.
The final two poems in this section speak of early love, memory and regret.
The readers may wonder whether perhaps the middle section will become more optimistic, but no. It starts with "Junkie Monkey Reel", a dark description of a drug addict; with raw painful images. "The Lesson" continues the theme about the selfishness and ultimate self-destruction of drug addiction,
"Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live."
The next poem, "California Prodigal", is perhaps the most difficult in the collection. A description of the California landscape using metaphor and personification of the rugged natural formations, a description of an old adobe house up in the mountains; a quiet, peaceful place to conjure up a sense of loss and abandonment,
"Flush on inner cottage walls
Used to the gelid breath
Of old manors, glare disdainfully
Over breached time.
Around and through these
But the poem ends on an optimistic note describing the sunlit poppy fields,
"...Each day is
Fulminant, exploding brightly"
"My Arkansas" is also a dark poem, referring back to Angelou's childhood, and the racism prevalent at that time. The poem is full of symbolism such as the moss which represents the "old crimes" of Arkansas, spoiling the poplar trees on which it grows. Many aspects of nature are used here as symbols for events. For instance, red universally symbolises danger, whereas a sunrise is usually an indication of hope. Yet with,
"dusk no more shadows
than the noon
The past is brighter yet"
the reader wonders how strong the hope really is. Will the new dawn for Arkansas ever come? The memories remain, festering,
"It writhes. It writhes in awful
Waves of brooding."
The next poem provides glimpses, vivid shapshots of a city, always with a dark feel.
"Lady Luncheon Club" is simpler; direct and ironic. It recalls every impassioned after-dinner speech the reader may have encountered, and the trivialities of the "chattering classes" who may be in attendance,
"He sighs for youthful death
And rape at ten, and murder of
The soul stretched over long.
Our woman notes:
(This coffee’s much too strong.)"
The poem has humour, but it is a grim twisted humour.
The next, "Momma Welfare Roll", is also bitter. Angelou often writes about women who have few life choices left. In this one, a mother is forced to accept government assistance, to go "on welfare". She is described as courageous and defiant,
"Her jowls shiver in accusation
Of crimes cliched by
"Too fat to whore
Too mad to work"
"They don't give me welfare.
I take it."
"The Singer Will Not Sing" is probably meant for Angelou's friend, the singer, Abbey Lincoln, since it was written at a time when the singer was not producing much, and this is what is described,
"Sounds do not lift beyond
those reddened walls."
"Willie" is a hauntingly beautiful and sad poem, about a lonely tramp,
"Solitude was the climate in his head
Emptiness was the partner in his bed,
Pain echoed in the steps of his tread,"
"I may cry and I will die,
But my spirit is the soul of every spring,"
"I'm the rustle in the autumn leaves."
It is clearly an allegory, and a very positive, uplifting one. Willie is crippled, yet after he dies he will live on in many different ways. This is my personal favourite.
"To Beat The Child Was Bad Enough" is an emotional description of a new birth, as it must feel to the child,
"Hunger, new hands, strange voices,
Its cry came natural, tearing."
"Woman Work", lists the mundane chores of a woman who stays at home to mother her children. It has a strong rhyme scheme, an almost singing tone in its forceful rhythms and chants. The theme of women's vitality here is similar to that of "Phenomenal Woman", and its positivity will appeal to readers to whom this lifestyle feels familiar. The end indicates the world outside, a world of peace and contentment, and an "other" aspect of the world that the working woman of the poem craves, and feels she deserves,
"Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own."
It is followed by the very popular poem, one which begs to be said aloud, "One More Round",
"There ain't no pay beneath the sun
As sweet as rest when a job's well done."
The strong metre and rhythm echo the plantation songs, the work and protest songs from earlier eras, and the theme is against oppression and past slavery,
"And now I'll tell you my Golden Rule,
I was born to work but I ain't no mule
I was born to work up to my grave
But I was not born
To be a slave."
The final three poems in the middle section deal with the racial injustices of the past, the poverty of Maya Angelou's Arkansas childhood, the drudgery of life working in the cotton rows and the sugar cane,
"And all my days are dying."
The third section start with the masterpiece "Still I Rise", and straightaway there are the vociferous accusations from an oppressed race, the injustice of misrepresentation which is in the very written record,
"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."
It is a proud and defiant statement,
"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."
There is a hopeful determination to rise above difficulty and discouragement, a determination to be strong and resiliant, referring back again to the earlier times of slavery,
"Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
Ending with a timeless and triumphant dream, a determined declaration,
"Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
The next, "Ain't That Bad?" is a rare jocular poem to encourage Black Pride, using "bad" in the street vernacular, to convey positive connections with Black culture and mores,
"Dressing in purples and pinks and greens
Exotic as rum and cokes,"
conjures up an image of street cred, the strength and pride in being Black and observing the customs and community,
"An' ain't we Black
An' ain't we fine?"
"Life doesn't frighten me at all" continues the positive, more upbeat and defiant feeling, as does "Bump d'Bump". "On Aging" continues the provocation with skill and sensitivity, with instantly recognisable thoughts for those to whom it applies,
"Don't think I need your chattering.
I'm listening to myself."
Plus there is an acceptance of fate and time, a resolution, and a quirky sense of humour,
"But aint' I lucky I can still breathe in."
There is a brief return to the themes of nature and love, the progress of life, and two poems which are a commitment to Maya Angelou's faith in her Christian God, with a refrain,
"Let me humbly say,
Thank You for this day
I want to thank You."
This collection of poems is a very personal collection. Maya Angelou's experience of life could hardly be much more different from my own. So how do they make me feel as a white person? Do I feel guilty for the crimes of my ancestors? No. I feel outraged, angry, and deeply saddened. But it is Maya Angelou's skill as a poet which makes me feel I have far more in common with her, as a fellow human from a totally different culture, with totally different experiences, than I have with anyone involved with the centuries of oppression and mistreatment of black people in the past.
Maya Angelou speaks out and gives a voice to all black people, all people (especially women) who have ever been oppressed, and all her ancestors. With her indomitable spirit, she speaks out for the poor, the disenfranchised, the deprived, and the handicapped. She addresses both the basic human spirit, and social issues. The poems cover a wide range of topics, including themes here of painful loss, sexual awakening, sensuality, self-acceptance, aging, the home, the importance of family, love, loneliness, drug addiction, Christian salvation, Springtime, social injustice, continuing discrimination, Southern racism, the struggles of slavery, segregation, sexism, the nature of women, rape and abuse, and perhaps most passionately, the strength of women's voices. Maya Angelou is concerned with survival, the right to a personal identity. She is darkly defiant, black, angry and bitter, wryly comical, wise and hopeful, self-assured and ultimately encouraging and resilient. She thinks life can be beautiful and full of joy, but that we all have a long way to go yet. The poems are a triumph.
"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.
Here is a list of all the poem in And Still I Rise:
1. Touch Me, Life, Not Softly
A Kind of Love, Some Say
Where We Belong, a Duet
Just For a Time
Junkie Monkey Reel
Throught the Inner City to the Suburbs
Lady Lucheon Club
Momma Welfare Roll
The Singer Will not Sing
To Beat the Child was Bad Enough
One More Round
3. And Still I Rise
Still I Rise
Ain't That Bad?
Life Doesn't Frighten Me
Just Like Job
Call Letters: Mrs V.B.
Thank You, Lord
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Read information about the authorMaya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, was an American poet, memoirist, actress and an important figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. In 2001 she was named one of the 30 most powerful women in America by Ladies Home Journal. Maya Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, (1969) which was nominated for a National Book Award and called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Die (1971) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.
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