Poem Analysis

"Still I Rise" - By: Maya Angelou

Still I Rise - By: Maya Angelou

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.

Thematic Link To "A Raisin in the Sun"

  • This poem shows how much African-Americans were looked down upon during this time period (1920's).

  • It shows how irritated and bothered white people were to see African-Americans in their presence. It also shows the pain that African-Americans felt during this time period when they were seen as inferior people in the eyes of white people.

  • In A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family, specifically Walter, didn't like being considered poor black people that couldn't even afford their own decent house.

  • Walter didn't want to feel the embarrassment and pain of working as a chauffeur that couldn't even support his own family properly. He was under pressure because he wanted to be able to support his family properly.

  • In the end, the Younger family didn't care about what the white in their neighborhood thought of them when they moved into their new house.

Literary Criticism

(essay date 1995) In the following review, Cookson praises Angelou's use of black-speech rhythms, inflections and patterns in her poetry.]

Maya Angelou's five volumes of poems are here collected, reset in a handsome typeface, and produced in a collector's first edition. As a sort of companion volume, her publisher, Random House, has brought out a separate, pocket-size volume of "four poems celebrating women," entitled Phenomenal Woman (after the title poem). It too is handsomely designed; the publisher no doubt hopes to capitalize on the wider recognition of the poet, following her reading of her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the inauguration of President Clinton in 1993.

Angelou's poems celebrate black people, men and women; at the same time, they bear witness to the trials of black people in this country. Implicitly or directly, whites are called to account, yet Angelou's poetry, steeped though it is in the languages and cultures of black America, does not exclude whites. Quite the reverse: the poems are generous in their directness, in the humor Angelou finds alongside her outrage and pain, in their robust embrace of life. They are truly "celebratory."

Though Angelou's repertory is wide, she is at her best when working in the rhythms and highly inflected speech patterns of black Southern dialect, or being street-wise hip. She prefers strong, straightforward rhyme to free verse. The musical currents of blues and jazz, the rhythm of rap songs, and the language of the Bible mingle in her poems. The rhetoric of the pulpit is here too, though Angelou sometimes turns it to secular purposes. "Still I Rise," a poem about the survival of black women despite every kind of humiliation, deploys most of these forces, as it celebrates black women while simultaneously challenging the stereotypes to which America has subjected them since the days of slavery. "Does my sassiness upset you?" "Does my haughtiness offend you?" "Does my sexiness upset you?" the poet demands in an in-your-face tone through successive stanzas, leading to the poem's inspirational conclusion. The penultimate stanza is especially strong: "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."

Angelou is master of several poetic idioms, and her voices are many. From the admonitory "Letter to an Aspiring Junkie" ("Let me hip you to the streets, / Jim, / Ain't nothing happening") to the simple prayer of a black man giving thanks for another day on earth ("Thank You, Lord"), she provides her readers direct access to her poems.

I was once a sinner man,

Living unsaved and wild,

Taking my chances in a dangerous world,

Putting my soul on trial.

Because of Your mercy,

Falling down on me like rain,

Because of Your mercy,

When I die I'll live again,

Let me humbly say,

Thank You for this day.

I want to thank You.

Maya Angelou does not stint and she does not spare the often painful details of her people. Still, she somehow gives hope.