Maya Angelou wrote the poem 'The Brave and Startling Truth,' which is about a journey to a mysterious destination that the whole human race is traveling on. Where is this destination, and what truth will we learn?
'A Brave and Startling Truth' Theme
There are two major themes in this poem: the journey and the destination. Maya Angelou talks about three different types of journeys that the human race is traveling on: the journey through the cosmos, the journey through history, and the journey toward a better future. In this journey through the cosmos, we are seemingly alone, living on a tiny rock, spinning through a vast, dark universe. Angelou states:
'We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns.'
Not only are we on a journey through space, we are also on a journey through history. Angelou wants us to think about our civilization, and how we have grown as humans. She speaks of all the wonders that we have built through time, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the pyramids of Giza, to remind us of our history and how the human race has evolved up to the present day.
The third concept of journey used in the poem is the journey toward a better future. We are traveling through time and space, but where are we going? The title of the poem hints that when we get there, we will learn something amazing: a brave and startling truth that will change us forever.
This ties into the other theme of the poem: destination. Humanity is traveling on this little planet through time and space, towards a destination called 'the day of peacemaking.' On that day, we will be able to look back on history and see that we have always tried to make civilization greater. Humans have built great monuments and collected vast amounts of knowledge. However, the real point of all of this is to come to a day when the whole world declares peace and ends the fighting that keeps us from reaching our true potential. The pyramids, or the Hanging Gardens, or anything else that we create don't make us great, according to Angelou. We are the 'true wonder of this world,' if only we would realize it!
'A Brave and Startling Truth' Analysis
Angelou wrote 'A Brave and Startling Truth' for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, a worldwide organization committed to humanitarian efforts such as peace and ending world hunger. Therefore, it is fitting that Angelou would write a poem about peace to commemorate the institution.
This poem has a free verse rhyme section. By not having a rhyme, the poem is more like everyday speech. But it does have a rhythm. One way in which she accomplishes this is with a literary device called polysyndeton. This is a technique that uses conjunctions such as 'and' to tie together different ideas into long, run-on sentences. This helps a writer build momentum, meaning, and emotion. Angelou uses the conjunction 'and' 21 times and 'nor' four times, connecting all of her observations about the human race and reflecting her hope for future peace.
Lists also help create rhythm and to emphasize various points. There are several lists in this poem, such as the things that must happen in society in order for this day of peacemaking to arrive. We must 'release our fingers from fists of hostility,' 'let the rifles fall from our shoulders,' and remove 'landmines of death.' She also lists some of the great wonders of the world, like the pyramids, the Gardens of Babylon, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Fuji. The final list contains human contradictions. We 'reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger,' but at the same time 'petition in the dark for peace.' Our 'mouths abide cankerous words,' yet out of them also 'come songs of…exquisite sweetness.' And our 'hands can strike with such abandon / That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living,' but it is those very same hands that 'can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness.'
Maya Angelou's 'A Brave and Startling Truth' was a poem written for the United Nations's 50th anniversary, and its themes concern journeys and destinations. The human race is on many different kinds of journeys, and Angelou says one day in the future we will reach our destination, which she calls 'the day of peacemaking.' The poem is written in free verse, which means that it is more like everyday speech and does not rhyme. It does, however, have rhythm, which is created by lists of things, like wonders such as the pyramids and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, used to show us how far we've come, and polysyndeton, a literary technique that uses conjunctions such as 'and' to build momentum and tie together different ideas into long sentences. This is why there is only one period in the poem - at the end. In the end, Angelou says that our ultimate goal is to realize that we are the true wonders of the world.