Explication to “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
Still I Rise is a poem that puts of people who never seem to be happy by the success of others. They spend their whole time peddling lies, being bitter and showing upset to someone’s success. The only time when they seem to be happy is when they see others bowed head with brokenness. From the poem, the speaker looks at such people and says that they cannot prevent her from rising. The speaker points at several scenarios in which these people are offended by the speaker. She uses words such as Sexiness, haughtiness, and sassiness. The mood of the poem is colored by the poetic elements that are used in it. They bring out a mood of hope and determination as the speaker narrates that she rises above all odds “just like the moon and the sun”. In this essay I intend to argue how the poetic elements have been used to bring out some of the main themes in the poem.
In the first line of the poem the speaker begins with using a rhetoric line where her enemies may seem to have succeeded in their plot to make her life miserable. She says that “you may write me down in history” (Angelou) which brings the idea of a temporary victory over her enemies. She uses consonance to create an image (Margaret, Mary and Jon) of the weapon upon which her enemies use to try and bring her down. She says in the second line that her enemies use lies coupled with bitter emotion to ensure that she is written down in history. In the third line the speaker uses a metaphor and rhymes with the first line. Both lines have similar meaning where they imply bad actions against the speaker. Symbolism is also used in the third line where dirt represents the idea of killing someone’s reputation by smearing dirt to his/her character. The speaker’s enemies use lies to ensure that her reputation is made unclean. The fourth line is ironical as the speaker uses the situation in which her enemies try to put her into to defeat them. Even though they try and use dirt to spoil her reputation, she uses the same dirt to rise out of the situation. This line also includes a couple of elements such as similes, where the idea of rising is likened to dust that has been disturbed from where it had settled. When dust is blown, it rises into the air. The line also rhymes with the second line but the implications of both are quite opposite.
In the second stanza the speaker starts with a rhetorical question (Gardner) asking her enemies whether her sassiness upsets them. She knows very well that these are her enemies and anything about her upsets them, especially when they see her in happy and mischievous moods. The second line similarly asks a related question to the first one. However in the second line she seems to be seeking for an answer because she fails to understand why all the fuss over her suddenly being in a sassy mood. The line also rhymes with the first one and seems to emphasize on the idea brought out with the first line of the stanza. In the third line, there is both the use of symbolism and simile to bring out the idea of sassiness of the speaker. The oil wells are used to symbolize her achievements and the reason why she is sassy being her achievements. The oil can also be used to symbolize her personal wealth and it could be said she seems to be sassy because she has plenty in her house.
There is a connection between the first and the third stanzas because the general idea of both is to put off the enemies who are standing in her way. The speaker uses several similes to relate her position to similar natural circumstances where the concept of rising above all odds is depicted. She relates to the bodies of the universe such as the moon and the sun since these two are known to be above everything and with their light, everyone can notice these two bodies. The sun and the moon are both a symbol hope because they give out light which enables people to see where they are going. Therefore the speaker likens herself to these bodies because she is the symbol of hope to many.
The fourth stanza begins like the second stanza where it uses a rhetorical question aimed at her enemies. The speaker knows that it is true her enemies want to see her broken, but she still goes ahead to ask them the question “Did you want to see me broken?” (Angelou) The second line has a direct relation to the first, in that it emphasizes on the negative feel that the poem brings out. It also uses alliteration to create this feel and mood. The phrase “Bowed head and lowered” (Angelou) has characteristics of alliteration by the use of the consonant ‘d’ at the end of every word. This poetic style is used to stress the idea of what makes her enemies happy. It has also been used to create a sense of sympathy as the reader goes through it. The reader realizes the extent of the advancements her enemies have made towards her and brings out a sympathetic mood. The third line also stresses on this idea even further because of the simile used to represent the manner in which the speaker’s enemies want to see her like. The last line of the stanza is equally sympathetic in nature because the speaker points out that whenever her enemies make advancement, they cause her to have painful emotional cries.
The mood suddenly changes in the fifth stanza where the speaker resumes to her rhetorical questions by asking an obvious question that she can easily figure out the answer to. She even tries to give a little advice to her enemies by telling them not to “take it awful hard”. The speaker seems to be proud of her achievements and wealth because in the third line of the stanza she categorically expresses this sense of pride when she says that she “laughs out like she has got gold mines” (Angelou). The simile used in the third line creates a mood of happiness and the reader is made to interpret that the speaker is excessively wealthy and that she has achieved a lot in her life such that she likens her achievements to gold mines that she digs everyday in hervx own backyard.
The sixth stanza asserts the feeling of determination in the minds of the readers. There is repeated use of repletion which the speaker uses to make more emphasis on her position. The repletion implies that she (the speaker) will back down or be cowed by the advancements of her enemies. She has chosen to disregard every wicked thing they try and use against her. She also uses irony to explain this point loud and clear to her enemies. For instance in the first line, she says that “you may shoot me” (Angelou), this line is ironical because once she is shot, cut into pieces or killed (as used in the first, second and third lines respectively) then the speaker will cease to exist and lose the opportunity to prove her point to her enemies.
The seventh stanza uses tones to bring out the image of bodily sexiness of the speaker. The speaker once again is rhetorical to her enemies by asking them if her beauty and charm is what offends them. In the previous stanzas it occurred as though the speaker is seeking to find out what exactly makes these unknown people or persons hate her. She seems to wonder whether it is her wealth, her achievements, her moods of happiness or her beauty and sexiness that cause such hatred from her enemies. Then the second line creates a sense of past relationships between the speaker and her enemies. The speaker seems to be in wonder why her enemies are now behaving as though they are surprised that she displays sexiness. She uses symbolism in the third line to illustrate how glittering her dancing style is by likening it to the glitters of a diamond. Her moves make her stand out causing feelings of jealousy from her enemies.
It clearly comes out in the poem that the speaker is not only proud of her position but also uses it to create a hope in many people who are enslaved. In the last stanza of the poem this is depicted clearly with a metaphoric representation of the speaker’s passion and goal in life. She has to struggle past all the odds so that she becomes the dream and the source of hope to many slaves because that is the gift that her ancestors gave to her
Angelou, Maya. “Still I rise.” 1978.
Gardner, Helen. New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1950. New York and London:
Oxford University Press, 1972.
Margaret, Ferguson, Jo Salter Mary and Stallworthy Jon, The Norton Anthology of
Poetry. 4. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1996.