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‘Still I Rise’ is a widely loved poem written by the American poet Maya Angelou. It is from her book “And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems.” The poem reminds us of the African-American tradition of powerful songs written in the face of racial discrimination and further suffering of the black community in America.
In this poem, Maya Angelou expresses her extraordinary self-esteem and black pride which helps, all who are like her, rise above any kind of injustice and trials. The poem is a universal message about the resilience of the human spirit.
The poem has 43 lines which are divided into 9 stanzas. The first 7 stanzas are quatrains because they are made up of four lines each. The rhyme scheme is not consistent. The five quatrains in the poem rhyme in the scheme of ABCB while the other two quatrains’ scheme is ABCC. The poem ends in a sermon tone repeating ‘I rise” three times.
The poem begins with a direct address to the ones who are trying to write her down in history. Oppressors try to change the facts of history with their bitter, twisted lies. The poet is firm in her courage that even if she is put down to the level of dirt, she will rise from it like dust rises.
It emphasizes the surprise in the hearts of oppressors who still see the boldness in their victims. The poet is taunting them because of why her liveliness should turn them gloomy.
In characteristic humour of Maya Angelou, it says that even in her impoverishment, she walks with all glory of self-pride. In America, the businessmen of the Oil Industry are among the richest, and the pride of the speaker in the poem is not anyway lesser than that of them.
There is a firmness in the poet’s conviction in her capacity to rise. Moons and Suns are eternal facts of the universe that never change. Their presence creates tides on the earth which is more than certain. Human hopes are always high. The poet will keep rising just like these certain facts which can never be stopped.
The enemy wants to see her broken, the poet is questioning this. It is a universal reminder of American Slavery which reduced Black people to submission. They want to see her walking with a bowed head and not be able to see them in their eyes. The poet compares the fallen shoulders of the victim to teardrops. The narrator here won’t give in to the weakness that the victims express in their soulful cries.
Again, the poet questions whether her proud behaviours offend her oppressors. She will not change her manner anyway. In a previous stanza about oil fields, where she brings up the example of the riches of gold mines. She laughs, unlike her condition which is poor according to her enemies. She laughs with such a rich pride like her backyard has goldmines in it.
The poet describes how her enemies try to destroy her. They use mean words against her which is like shooting her. They look at her in such a way that it feels like cutting her. Her enemies are full of hatred. Yet, she remains untouchable and rises like air which no one can stop.
The narrator is conscious of her own beauty. In the eyes of her oppressors, she has no human qualities so seeing her desirability upsets them. She is directly addressing you which is surprised at the dance of the victim. Pointing at the treasure of her body, she uses the image of a diamond to describe her womanliness.
The poet has lived a life which is supposedly shameful. Such incidents are the huts of history’s shame. Her past is full of pain. She rises up above all this. She compares herself to a black ocean.
Oceans are blue but here it is black consciousness which is expressed through the metaphor. She can leap across anything. Her personality is like water which can enter any shape while welling and swelling. She bears through everything in life which is compared to the tide here.
The final stanza is a compelling concluding message. It speaks of Afro -American people and their history of suffering. Their nights of terror and fear. The narrator says that she will still rise above all that. The night is gone, and the day is breaking out.
The light of hope is now clear. She is proud of her ancestry so she celebrates its gift. Her ancestors were brought into the continent as slaves but they never stopped their fight. She is the dream and the hope of the slave and she keeps rising.