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.

Maya Angelou, born in 1928, lived through some of the worst oppression and inequality for African American people. Although slavery had been long abolished, Angelou saw its effects on society and the African American people. ‘Still I Rise’ is her declaration that she, for one, would not allow the hatefulness of society to determine her own success.

The poem, ‘Still I Rise,’ is not only a proclamation of her own determination to rise above society, but was also a call to others to live above the society in which they were brought up. 

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

 

Summary

Still I Rise‘ by Maya Angelou is an inspiring and moving poem that celebrates self-love and self-acceptance.

The poem takes the reader through a series of statements the speaker makes about herself. She praises her strength, her body, and her ability to rise up and away from her personal and historical past. There is nothing, the speaker declares, that can hold her back. She is going to “rise” above and beyond anything that seeks to control her.

Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ can be read in full here.

 

Structure and Form

‘Still I Rise’ is a nine stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. The first seven stanzas contain four lines, known as quatrains, stanzas eight has six lines and the ninth has nine. The first seven stanzas follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, the eighth: ABABCC and the ninth: ABABCCBBB.

 

Tone and Mood

Within ‘Still I Rise’ Angelou takes a strong and determined tone throughout her writing. By addressing her’s, and all marginalized communities’ strengths, pasts, and futures head-on, she’s able to create a very similar mood. A reader should walk away from ‘Still Rise’ feeling inspired, joyful, and reinvigorated with courage and strength.

 

Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language

Angelou makes use of several poetic techniques and different kinds of figurative language in ‘Still I Rise’. These include anaphora, alliteration, enjambment, and similes. The first, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. In this piece, a reader should look to stanza six for an example. Here, Angelou uses the phrase “You may” at the start of lines one through three.

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, ” huts of history” in line one of the eighth stanza and “gifts” and “gave” in stanza nine.

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 example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza and two and three of the second stanza. 

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. In the third stanza of ‘Still I Rise’ with the line “Just like hopes springing high” or in lines three and four of the fifth stanza: “’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own backyard”.

 

Themes

The major themes of this work are self-empowerment, perseverance, and injustice.  Throughout the text, the speaker, who is commonly considered to be Angelou herself, addresses her own oppressor. The “you” she refers to represents the varieties of injustices that people of colour, women, and all marginalized communities have dealt with as long as history has been recorded.

She throws a prior self-derogatory way of thinking to the side and addresses herself lovingly and proudly. The poet seeks to empower herself, as well as all those who have doubted their abilities, strength, beauty, intelligence or worth. This is seen through lines like “You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise”.

 

Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

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.

In this stanza, Maya Angelou gives her heart and soul to declare that nothing and no one could oppress her or keep her down. She doesn’t care what the history books saw, for she knows they are full of “twisted lies.” She will not let it bother her that others “trod” her “in the very dirt.” She proclaims that if she is trodden in the dirt, she will rise like dust.

 

Stanza Two

Does my sassiness upset you?
(…)
Pumping in my living room.

In the second stanza, she asks a question. This is an interesting question, as she refers to her own tone as “sassiness” and asks the hearer if her sassy tone is upsetting. The poet notices that the people around her in her society are “beset with gloom” when she succeeds. She questions this. She knows that she is succeeded in life, in her writing, and as a woman. The “oil wells pumping in [her] living room” symbolize her success.

 

Stanza Three

Just like moons and like suns,
(…)
Still I’ll rise.

In this stanza, she compares herself to the moon and the sun as they are affected by the tides. This gives the reader the understanding that the speaker has no other choice but to rise up out of her affliction. Try as a society might to keep her oppressed, it is in her nature to rise up and stand against oppression just as it is the nature of the tides to respond to the moon.

 

Stanza Four

Did you want to see me broken?
(…)
Weakened by my soulful cries?

The speaker’s questions in this stanza are direct, pertinent, and appropriately accusing. She knows that her own success is received with bitterness by the racist people in her society. So she directs these questions at a society that has long tried to keep her oppressed. She asks them if they want to see her broken, oppressed, depressed, and bitter.

She asks these questions know that this indeed is what many in society wanted. They did not want to see a black woman rise up out of the oppression of her society and succeed. The speaker knows this and she draws attention to it with this revealing, yet cutting questions. 

 

Stanza Five

Does my haughtiness offend you?
(…)
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

She continues with the questions directed at a racist society when she asks whether her “haughtiness” is offensive. She knows that society resents seeing a black woman full of pride. This question has an air of sarcasm which serves to point out the hypocrisy of society as it is embittered by the success of one that it has tried to oppress. The speaker continues is a sarcastic tone as she pretends to comfort the hearer.

The poet says, “don’t you take it awful hard.” This is her sarcastic way of pretending to care for those who resent her success. She continues, however, to in a sense “flaunt” her success before the society that has always oppressed her. She claims that she has “gold mines” and that she laughs at the success she has found.

 

Stanza Six

You may shoot me with your words,
(…)
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

In this stanza, she lets society know that no matter what it does to oppress her, it will not succeed. The poet lets society know that it cannot prevail against her with words or looks. She proclaims that society cannot prevail against her even if it managed to have her killed because of its hatefulness. She claims that she will still “like air” rise.

 

Stanza Seven

Does my sexiness upset you?
(…)
At the meeting of my thighs?

The speaker continues her questioning of society. By this time in the poem, it becomes apparent that the speaker has placed society on trial and is now in the process of cross-examination. She knows the answers to these questions, but to ask them is to incriminate the offender. While she asks incriminating questions, she simultaneously reveals incredible self-confidence despite the oppression of society.

 

Stanza Eight

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
(…)
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

In this stanza, the speaker finally refers to the past- the reason that she is oppressed and resented to this day. She calls slavery “history’s shame” and she proclaims that she will not be held down by the past, even if it is “rooted in pain.”

 

Stanza Nine

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

In the final stanza, the speaker reveals that she intends to leave behind all the effects of slavery and the history of oppression with intent to rise above it. She claims that she will leave behind the “terror and fear” and that she will rise above the pain and the oppression “into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear.”

The speaker does not intend to allow the hatefulness of society or the pain of the past to stop her from becoming all that she ever dreamed of being. For this reason, she repeats three times, “I rise.”

 

Similar Poems

Maya Angelou is best known for her empowering poems that seek to celebrate the female body and mind, specifically dedicated to Black women.

Other Angelou that are similar to ‘Still I Rise’ include Phenomenal Woman’ and Woman Work.’ Readers might also be interested in Audre Lorde‘s ‘Power’ and ‘Primer for Blacks’ by Gwendolyn Brooks.

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Allisa Corfman
About
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
  • Avatar nate cromer says:

    this is the most boring stuff ever y do teachers make us do stuff like this

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      From a teacher: Because communication is at the heart of everything we do. This conversation, you applying for a job, all these things require you to communicate and poetry is arguably the most beautiful form of communication. Why not study something so beautiful? I’d suggest if you hate poetry that maybe diversify a little, some of the canonical poems found in schools can appear a bit stuff. Maybe try out someone like Mark Grist who is a bit cooler and more relatable.

  • Ya that will be very helpful if someone would mla cite this plsssss

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      The Author’s name is at the bottom of the post which should help with citations. It was published on Feb 27, 2016

  • Avatar Memouna Edith Santus says:

    Good morning,
    Please I wish to have the MLA citation of this page.This page has really been useful for me to correctly do an assignment but I need the MLA citation to avoid plagiarism.
    Thanks for your understanding.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Sorry i’m not au fait with the MLA referencing system – however, it was published on the Published on: Feb 27, 2016 if that helps?

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Right back at ya 🙂

  • Avatar Ellie Kakavand says:

    How does the poem structure shift? What is the relevance of this change in structure

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      The poem shifts from quatrains to stanza of varying length after the seventh stanza. This is to represent the fact that the narrator is no longer talking about repression and instead about striving for freedom. So the strict form at the beginning is broken.

  • Avatar Mrs. Green says:

    Your comments are clear and easy to understand. As an English teacher I notice that the end punctuation was after the end quote such as, “I rise”. The end punctuation should be first.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you. I have edited this.

  • This analysis was great it helped me a lot. I will definitely will use this again for future poetry work for school. Thanks.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      No worries. Tell your friends!

  • thank you for this analysis

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for reading it!

  • >

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