25+ Maya Angelou Poems

Ranked by Poetry Experts

Maya Angelou, a prominent American poet and author, is celebrated for her timeless collection of poems. Born Marguerite Anne Johnson in January 1928, she left an indelible mark on literature and culture.

Alongside her autobiographical works, Angelou’s poetic prowess shone brightly, captivating readers with heartfelt verses and profound insights. “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and other poetic gems exemplify her literary genius.

Embracing social causes and inspiring change, Maya Angelou’s poems continue to resonate with audiences worldwide, leaving a lasting impact on generations.

Maya Angelou

Still I Rise

by Maya Angelou

‘Still I Rise’ is an inspiring and emotional poem that’s based around Maya Angelou’s experiences as a Black woman in America. It encourages readers to love themselves fully and persevere in the face of every hardship.

This poem is one of Maya Angelou's most iconic and powerful pieces. It has become a staple of American literature and a rallying cry for those who have faced discrimination, oppression, and adversity. The poem is celebrated for its uplifting and empowering message of resilience and hope and its celebration of Black women's strength and perseverance in the face of historical and contemporary forms of racism, sexism, and discrimination.

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.

Awaking in New York

by Maya Angelou

‘Awaking in New York’ by Maya Angelou is filled with beautiful imagery. She depicts what it is like to wake up in New York City from a specific point of view.

One of Angelou’s shorter poems, ‘Awaking in New York’ uses imagery as its primary technique. The concise lines of this piece depict what it is like for one speaker to wake up in the city. They also briefly allude to the day to day mundanity of city life, using personification. Angelou juxtaposes these images of exhaustion and solitude with those of the dreams of children and how they are shared with “seraphim,” or multi-winged angels.

Curtains forcing their will

against the wind,

children sleep,

Caged Bird

by Maya Angelou

‘Caged Bird’, or ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ as the poem is sometimes referred to, by Maya Angelou, is arguably one of the most moving and eye-opening poems ever written.

This poem was published in 1983 in Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? and speaks as a number of Maya Angelou’s poems do, on resilience. She was specifically interested in looking back on African American history through the metaphor of a bird. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker talks about a free bird. He goes wherever he wants and claims all areas of the sky. The second stanza is darker, as Angelou discusses a caged bird. The bird is imprisoned by “bars of rage” that make him hard to see. He can’t function because of the overwhelming anger he has towards those who are keeping him captive. The only thing he’s able to do is sing, longing for freedom.

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou defies the stereotypes women are often faced with today. It is a poem filled with strength and determination.

This piece, like other Angelou poems, is about empowering oneself. The speaker wants young women to go out into the world and “kick ass,” no matter who they are or what they look like. The speaker addresses the fact that she is “not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size” but society’s norms do not matter when addressing one’s worth. She can carry herself confidently, walking into a room “as cool as you please” and stand up to a man. In fact, she adds, they “swarm” around her like bees. No matter what anyone else says to her, she knows that she’s a “woman / Phenomenally”.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

Woman Work

by Maya Angelou

‘Woman Work’ by Maya Angelou is a poem that celebrates women’s strength. It uses natural imagery to speak on this topic and various others.

Through skillful use of language, Angelou captures the burdens and responsibilities that women carry daily. The poem's rhythmic cadence and evocative descriptions breathe life into the mundane tasks women undertake, revealing the unspoken struggles they endure. Angelou's ability to connect personal experiences with universal themes empowers readers to recognize and appreciate the unyielding power of women's work in shaping society.

I've got the children to tend

The clothes to mend

The floor to mop

The food to shop

When Great Trees Fall

by Maya Angelou

‘When Great Trees Fall’ by Maya Angelou speaks about loss as a tragic yet inevitable part of the human experience. When it strikes, it leaves despair and misery in its path.

One of Angelou's best, ‘When Great Trees Fall’ is dedicated to loss and misery as integral parts of the human experience. Through the metaphor of a falling tree, the speaker talks about important losses that shake one’s life. In this case, the impact of the tree on the ground is felt throughout the forest. All the creatures shake and shudder. The lions “hunker down” and try to ride out the aftershocks.

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,


by Maya Angelou

‘Africa’ by Maya Angelou uses an extended metaphor to describe the continent of Africa. She draws attention to the complex social-political climate.

‘Africa’ by Maya Angelou describes the plight of the African continent through the extended metaphor of a beautiful woman. By utilizing the metaphor of a woman Angelou creates a greater sympathy for the deep and long-lasting plight of the African people. Readers are better able to sympathize and empathize with a fellow human being. The suffering is more tangible, and more outrageous when a specific human face is the source of it.

Thus she had lain

sugercane sweet

deserts her hair

golden her feet


by Maya Angelou

‘Equality’ by Maya Angelou is an uplifting poem with a positive message. It speaks movingly about the possibilities of the future.

In this piece the speaker address themes of equality and discrimination. Through the use of metaphors and the striking refrain, “equality and I will be free” Maya Angelou emphasizes a universal longing for equality. The speaker asks the listener to stop covering their ears and their eyes and see clearly that the speaker, and all those like her, have been crying, asking for change. Eventually, the repetition of the refrain takes on the rhythm of a heartbeat or drumbeat. It is pounding over and over again, driving the speaker forward as she seeks out equal freedoms.

You declare you see me dimly

through a glass which will not shine,

though I stand before you boldly,

trim in rank and marking time.

On Aging

by Maya Angelou

‘On Aging’ by Maya Angelou explores what it means to get old. The speaker is honest and direct, confronting the reader with the truth about age.

This is a short poem that is addressed to those who might feel pity for an aging speaker. She asks them not to chatter at her, as she’s listening to herself She doesn’t want their sympathy, or for people to think that she is less than who she was in the past. In fact, she tells the listener directly that she is “the same person [she] was back then, a little less hair, a little less chin”. But, she knows very well that she is “lucky” that she can still “breathe in”.

When you see me sitting quietly,

Like a sack left on the shelf,

Don’t think I need your chattering.

I’m listening to myself.

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

by Maya Angelou

‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me’ by Maya Angelou is a memorable poem that focuses on a child. She takes the reader into this child’s mind who expresses superior courage.

This poem was published in 1993 and is about addressing one’s fears head-on, understanding them, and then keeping them at a distance so that they do not control one’s life. The poem is written from the perspective of a child, contains a lot of figurative language and a simple rhyme scheme.

Shadows on the wall

Noises down the hall

Life doesn't frighten me at all

Explore more poems from Maya Angelou

A Brave and Startling Truth

by Maya Angelou

‘A Brave and Startling Truth’ by Maya Angelou is a commonly quoted poem about humanity’s future. The poet alludes to the “truth” that humanity will arrive at when “we” realize we are the one true wonder of the world. 

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

A Conceit

by Maya Angelou

The speaker in ‘A Conceit’ by Maya Angelou indicates she is interested in a relationship that is real and tangible. This is not something she’s willing to back down from.

Give me your hand


Make room for me to lead and follow

to lead and follow


by Maya Angelou

‘Alone’ by Maya Angelou is a moving poem. It explores the topics of solitude and loneliness in a way that all readers should be able to relate to.

Lying, thinking

Last night

How to find my soul a home

Where water is not thirsty

Harlem Hopscotch

by Maya Angelou

‘Harlem Hopscotch’ by Maya Angelou is a thoughtful poem. It explores what it’s like to grow up Black in Harlem, New York.

One foot down, then hop! It's hot.

Good things for the ones that's got.

Another jump, now to the left.

Everybody for hisself.

Human Family

by Maya Angelou

‘Human Family’ by Maya Angelou expresses an incredibly relatable message about family. The poet speaks broadly about the world, unity, and how we are all connected to one another.

I note the obvious differences

in the human family.

Some of us are serious,

some thrive on comedy.

In and Out of Time

by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s ‘In and Out of Time’ is a touching depiction of a powerful relationship between two people who have overcome adversity.

The sun has come.

The mist has gone.

We see in the distance...

our long way home.

On the Pulse of Morning

by Maya Angelou

‘On the Pulse of Morning’, famous till today for the emotive and forceful recitation of the poem by Maya Angelou, is one of the U.S. presidential inauguration poems.

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

Our Grandmothers

by Maya Angelou

‘Our Grandmothers’ by Maya Angelou explores understanding and acceptance. It includes themes of family and relationships.

She lay, skin down in the moist dirt,

the canebrake rustling

with the whispers of leaves, and

loud longing of hounds and

Passing Time

by Maya Angelou

‘Passing Time’ by Maya Angelou explores the similarities between all people. It uses figurative language to depict skin tones as “dawn” and “dusk.”

Your skin like dawn

Mine like musk


by Maya Angelou

‘Savior’ by Maya Angelou is a thoughtful religious poem. It explores the past and present while emphasizes the changes that have occurred since Christ was crucified.

Petulant priests, greedy

centurions, and one million

incensed gestures stand

between your love and me.

The Lesson

by Maya Angelou

‘The Lesson’ by Maya Angelou is about life and death. The speaker begins the poem by claiming that she has died already, more than once, and that she will keep on dying.

I keep on dying again.

Veins collapse, opening like the

Small fists of sleeping


The Mothering Blackness

by Maya Angelou

‘The Mothering Blackness’ by Maya Angelou is a poem about motherhood and love. The poet uses unforgettable images within this piece that portray the complexities of relationships.

She came home running

     back to the mothering blackness

     deep in the smothering blackness

white tears icicle gold plains of her face

These Yet To Be United States

by Maya Angelou

‘These Yet To Be United States’ by Maya Angelou explores the complexities of the United States. The poet suggests that the country has not lived up to its potential.

Tremors of your network

cause kings to disappear.

Your open mouth in anger

makes nations bow in fear.

Touched By An Angel

by Maya Angelou

‘Touched By An Angel’ by Maya Angelou is a poem about love. It explores how hard it is to find and what it does not solve once acquired.

We, unaccustomed to courage

exiles from delight

live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple

Weekend Glory

by Maya Angelou

‘Weekend Glory’ by Maya Angelou explores important themes of identity and happiness. She uses the weekend as a way to explore what’s truly “glorious” and what’s not.

Some clichty folks

don't know the facts,

posin' and preenin'

and puttin' on acts,

When I Think About Myself

by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s ‘When I Think About Myself’ is a thoughtful and important poem about the way one speaker handles the darkest parts of her life.

When I think about myself,

I almost laugh myself to death,

My life has been one great big joke,

A dance that’s walked

When You Come

by Maya Angelou

‘When You Come’ by Maya Angelou is a powerful piece about a past love. The poet uses figurative language to emphasize the experience of reliving the past.

When you come to me, unbidden,

Beckoning me

To long-ago rooms,

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