Throughout ‘In and Out of Time,’ the reader is presented with beautiful, emotional images of a long-lasting love between two people. Angelou uses techniques like similes and metaphors to define this love and craft a vision of what it is like to be within it.
Explore In and Out of Time
The speaker addresses a specific listener throughout this poem, someone who is likely their romantic partner. Or, at the very least, someone very close to them. They describe briefly the struggles that they went through to ensure that they created a future that was safe and clear for themselves and for their listener. The bulk of the poem is used to define the love between the two. It’s a love that’s existed since the beginnings of time, the speaker says, and one that’s going to last through any trials they might face. It’s on this note that the poem ends.
You can read the full poem ‘In and Out of Time’ here.
Structure and Form
‘In and Out of Time’ by Maya Angelou is a twenty-eight line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are numerous examples of rhymes used throughout the poem. For example, “there” and “hair” at the ends of lines fourteen and fifteen as well as “mine” and “time” at the ends of lines twenty-four and twenty-eight. Readers should also take note of the length of the lines, varying from four syllables up to around twelve.
Angelou engages with themes of love, relationships, and strife in ‘In and Out of Time.’ The poet’s speaker never clearly defines their relationship to the listener nor do they describe what struggles they overcame. But, they do make it very clear that their love for this person is incredibly long last and will endure any other struggles that might come their way. The relationship is the reason and the reward for their hard work.
Angelou makes use of several literary devices in ‘In and Out of Time.’ These include but are not limited to enjambment, metaphors, and alliteration. A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as.” In this case, Angelou uses a metaphor to compare the listener’s hair to a beehive into which the listener reaches for the “sweet honey comb there.”
Alliteration is a type of repetition that occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “forest floor” in line nine and “hive” and “honey” in line thirteen.
Enjambment is a common formal device that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines eight and nine as well as lines twenty-five and twenty-six.
The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
and the first tree struggled up from the forest floor
I had always loved you more.
In the first lines of ‘In and Out of Time,’ the speaker begins by using a few lines that appear again at the end of the poem, used as a refrain. These lines have the feeling of a mantra, something someone might say to themselves or with another to make sure that they remain true and that they never forget them. The speaker is telling the listener that things have changed for them. The sun has come out and the mist, which symbolizes strife and darkness, has gone away. It’s possible to see into the distance now when before the mist was blocking their view. The ellipses at the end of the third line lead the reader to the fourth, clarifying exactly what it is that they can see. It is “our long way home.”
This is an interesting image and one that could evoke a variety of situations, emotions, and relationships between the speaker and the listener. The relationship between the two is an interesting one. It is not clearly defined in the following lines but it’s likely the reader will come to their own conclusion in regard to who the speaker and listener are to one another.
Whoever they are, they’re a long way from “home.” Home, at this point, could be a metaphor for happiness/safety or it could be their physical home that they’re at a distance from. The poem expands to include their emotions in the next line as the speaker asserts that they always belonged to one another. The nature of these lines makes it feel as though the two are lovers or romantic partners, changing the tone of the poem.
As Angelou continues on, she creates a beautiful image that defines to breadth and depth of the love the two share for the reader. They’ve loved each other since the beginning of time since the “first tree struggled up from the forest floor.” Rhyming with “floor,” Angelou’s speaker adds that they have always loved the listener “more.” This suggests that perhaps the relationship is uneven, or might simply allude to good-natured teasing about their love for one another that plenty of partners have engaged in.
You freed your braids…
gave your hair to the breeze.
It hummed like a hive of honey bees.
The sun has come.
The mist has gone.
In the following lines, the feelings of freedom brought into the poem through the image of the sun clearing the skies, continue. The speaker references their partner’s hair, suggesting that it’s in braids, humming when they let it down “like a hive of honey bees.” This lovely simile helps create a clear image of the scene and the experience the speaker is trying to describe.
Line fifteen includes the sound “Mmmm…” this mimics the sound that someone would make as they admire something they love, in this case, the listener’s hair. The line uses colloquial diction, as does most of the rest of the poem. This helps humanize the speaker and her relationship. They are letting the reader into their life a little more.
There is a transition between lines fifteen and sixteen when the speaker looks back on the time before the sun cleared the sky. Their partner saw them “bludgeoned by circumstance.” Their life, or whatever specific circumstances they had to deal with, were hard to persevere through. The speaker was “Lost, injured, hurt by chance.” This suggests that it was not the speaker’s fault that they ended up in this situation. It was pure chance.
As the lines progress, the speaker alludes to the fact that their situation, whatever it was, damaged the world for both of them. They had to fight, “scream…to the heavens” to “try to change our nightmares into dreams.” These dramatic lines transition back into the peaceful free-feeling tone that started the poem. The poet’s speaker has only allowed the reader a brief insight into their struggles. This means that readers will have to come to their own conclusion in regard to what that struggle might be. Is it to do with racial inequality as many of Angelou’s poems are? Or is there something else that she could be talking about?
We see in the distance our long way home.
in and out
The poem concludes with almost the same exact lines it opened with. The speaker reiterates the fact that they can see their “long way home” and that they two belong to one another. The last lines repeat the title of the poem, uses the phrase “in and out” three times in a row.
Readers who enjoyed ‘In and Out of Time’ should also consider reading some of Maya Angelou’s other poems. For example:
- ‘Equality’ — is evocative of a great deal of Angelou’s work. It deals with topics of understanding another’s life and the future.
- ‘On Aging’ —expresses the speaker’s beliefs about what it means to grow old and how she wants to be treated when she gets there.
- ‘Caged Bird’—is an eye-opening poem that references the poet’s own autobiography.
- ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’ —was published in 1993 and speaks on themes of fear and overcoming those fears in everyday life.