Analysis of Poem "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou

Updated on March 6, 2018
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou | Source

Maya Angelou and "Still I Rise"

Still I Rise is a powerful, empowering poem all about the struggle to overcome prejudice and injustice. It is one of Maya Angelou's most popular poems.

When read by those who understand the meaning of repeated wrongdoing, the poem becomes a kind of anthem, a beacon of hope for the oppressed and downtrodden.

It is a reminder of the abuse of power by those who sit in government, the judiciary, in the military and in the police force. For members of the public, for society, it sends out the clear, repeated message of hope. No matter the circumstances, there must always be hope to cling on to.

Still I Rise - Teaching and Learning

Students respond to poems in many different and exciting ways. This poem will inspire and spark off many a debate on such themes as:

Politics

History

Trade

Oppression

Societal Issues

Individual Rights

Slavery

Peaceful Protest

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.

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou

Still I Rise is included in this excellent book which has all of Maya Angelou's important poetry. For those who like to delve deep there are also lesser known poems, equally worth time and effort. From slavery through to the joys of love, the humanity in these poems shines through. A book I keep returning to. It'll never go out of fashion.

 

Analysis of "Still I Rise"

This stirring poem is packed full of figurative language and when read through comes over as a sort of secular hymn to the oppressed and abused. The message is loud and clear - no matter the cruelty, regardless of method and circumstance, the victim will rise up, the slave will overcome adversity.

Little wonder that Nelson Mandela read this poem at his inauguration in 1994, having spent 27 years in prison.

Although written with the black slavery and civil rights issues in mind, Still I Rise is universal in its appeal. Any innocent individual, any minority, any nation subject to oppression or abuse could understand the underlying theme - don't give in to torture, bullying, humiliation and injustice.

  • There are 43 lines in total made up of 7 quatrains and 2 end stanzas which help reinforce the theme of individual hope, 'I Rise' being repeated in mantra fashion.
  • This is a poem aimed at the oppressor. Note the first 'You' in the first line and the rhyme scheme abcb, which tightly knits the stanza together. It's worth going through the rhyme's effect because the full rhymes such as eyes/cries, hard/backyard, surprise/thighs continue up to the last two stanzas when the scheme changes from abcb to abcc and aabb, giving an absolute solid ending to the piece.

If this poem were a sculpture it would have a granite plinth to stand on. And the natural imagery is far reaching and the voice loud. There are moons and suns, tides and black ocean; there's clear daybreak and ancestral gifts, all joining together in a crescendo of hope.

  • Similes and metaphor abound. Every stanza has at least one, from the first ...'But still, like dust, I'll rise.' to the last...'I am the dream and the hope of the slave.'

There's a defiance in the poem as you read through, as if the speaker is trying to prick the conscience of the oppressor, by reminding them of past wrongs and present realities. The word sassiness suggests an arrogant self-confidence, backed up by the use of haughtiness, and sexiness. The poet's use of hyperbole with these three nouns adds a kind of absurd beauty.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as some surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

  • Stanza 6 brings the oppressive issue to a climax so to speak. Three lines begin with 'You', the speaker choosing particularly active verbs - shoot, cut, kill - to emphasise the aggression. But all to no avail for the oppressed will still rise, this time like air, an element which you cannot shoot, cut or kill.

All in all, an inspirational poem with powerful repetitive energy, a universal message and a clear, positive pulse throughout.

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Andrew Spacey

    Comments

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    • chef-de-jour profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Spacey 

      7 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Yes, a poem that touches the personal by being universal. Thanks for the visit and comment Audrey.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      7 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      "Still I Rise" absolutely does have universal appeal. As I read each line, followed by the inspiring video, I couldn't help but reflect on my own life. The challenges, losses, and pain, each one tugging at my heart. But I refuse to be a victim...I choose victorious.

      Magnificent and powerful. Thank you Andrew.

      Audrey

    • chef-de-jour profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Spacey 

      7 months ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Many thanks for the comment, most welcome. This poem has a universal appeal and should perhaps be pinned to the wall in all schools and work places. Created out of the blood/spirit of a wonderful person.

    • kiddiecreations profile image

      Nicole Kiddie Granath 

      7 months ago

      I love this poem. Your analysis is right on target. I feel like this poem could apply to lots of people and situations. It could be used in a situation where someone is being bullied, or suffering from domestic violence, or even just spiritual attacks. But of course it has great significance to the African American community. Beautiful and powerful poem.

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