Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou

‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’ was published in 1993 alongside illustrations by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The poem speaks on themes of overcoming fear, strength, and everyday life. The mood is uplifting and optimistic while the tone is focused and determined. 

 

Summary of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’ by Maya Angelou is a simple, heavily rhymed poem that describes the fears, or lack thereof, that a child speaker has. 

The poem takes the reader into the mind of a child who has, or so she asserts, found a way to overcome fear in her life. She repeats the refrain “Life doesn’t frighten me at all” several times in these lines. It reminds the reader, and also reminds the speaker herself, what she’s trying not to feel. The speaker takes the reader through many of the normal things that might scare a child and dismisses each one. It is at the end of the poem that one might start to doubt the speaker’s honesty. Perhaps she is hiding a bit of the real fear she has in her heart. 

 

Structure of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’ by Maya Angelou is a fourteen stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The stanzas range in length from one single line up to seven lines. The majority are tercets, meaning they have three lines. Angelou made use of a simple rhyme scheme within the text. The tercets mainly rhyme AAAA or AAB While the majority of the other stanzas make use of an alternating rhyme scheme of AABB. 

 

Poetic Techniques in Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

Angelou makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’. These include, but are not limited to, repetition, anaphora, alliteration, and enjambment. The first, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. Angelou repeats the refrain, “frighten me at all” ten times in the poem. It often begins with “Life doesn’t” and other times starts with “They don’t” or “That doesn’t”. Anytime something is repeated so frequently a reader should take their time considering it and what it means to the poet. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound.For example, “Bad,” “barking,” and “Big” in lines one and two of the second stanza and “Mean” and “Mother” in line one of the third stanza. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines one and two of the eighth stanza and lines one and two of the twelfth stanza. 

Angelou also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, the lines in stanza five that begin with “I” or the lines in stanza thirteen that begin with “Not”. 

 

Analysis of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me 

Stanzas One and Two 

In the first stanza of ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me,’ the speaker begins by taking note of the few things that might if she wasn’t so sure of her place in the world, frighten her. These are the “shadows on the wall” and the “noises down the hall”. The perfect rhyme that these lines and the others in this poem have, make each of these statements feel like a nursery rhyme. Something that its meant for a child to hear, read, or remember and take strength from. 

There is in the second stanza a reference to the barking dogs and “big ghosts in a cloud”. None of these things frighten her either. 

 

Stanzas Three and Four 

The third and fourth stanzas are similar to the two that came before them. Angelou speaks on “Mean old Mother Goose,” making this poem feel even more like it is meant to resemble a nursery rhyme. She also uses alliteration to declare that the “Lions on the loose” do not frighten her either. 

The fourth stanza brings in “Dragons breathing fire” on her bedspread”. She isn’t afraid of those either. 

 

Stanzas Five and Six 

The fifths stanza is the longest of the poem with seven lines. It is followed by the sixth stanza which only has one line. When the speaker comes upon the things she mentioned in the first four stanzas she scares them off. She says “boo” and they “shoo”. They run when she makes fun of them and they fly away when she doesn’t cry. She stands up to everything custom made to scare her. The following single line is a repetition of the refrain “Life doesn’t frighten me at all”. 

 

Stanzas Eight and Nine 

The eighth and ninth stanzas are back to three lines long each. They both reference a few more things that the speaker has learned not to be afraid of. These include being alone at night and when “Tough guys fight”. She isn’t scared of strangers or of “Panthers in the park”. 

 

Stanzas Ten and Eleven 

The tenth stanza brings the speaker, who is confirmed in these lines to be young, into the classroom. This is a place where most children experience fear at some point but she does not. The boys might pull her hair or taunt her, but she doesn’t care. If they show her “frogs and snakes” she isn’t bothered either. 

The last two lines of the eleventh stanza admit that she might sometimes be afraid, but it’s only in her dreams. There, she can’t control what she feels. 

 

Stanzas Twelve-Fourteen 

In the twelfth stanza of ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’, she explains that she has a “magic charm” that keeps her from being scared. It’s always “up [her] sleeve”. It allows her to pass through life without giving into the fear that strikes other children. The last four lines of the poem repeat the refrain twice and then reemphasize it with the line “Not at all” twice. 

The number of times that Angelou’s young speaker uses the phrase “Life doesn’t frighten me at all” could lead a reader to believe the opposite. It could be that she’s repeating it so many times in order to convince herself she isn’t afraid when really she is. 

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