Maya Angelou's famous poem 'Still I Rise' is part of a 1978 collection similarly titled 'And Still I Rise.' This collection is an excellent example of Angelou's poetic style, emphasizing the African experience and the strength and resiliency of women.
And Still I Rise
And Still I Rise is Maya Angelou's third volume of poetry, published at the height of her popularity as a writer in 1978. She was famous for orating her poems for an audience, and many of her poems in this collection are perfect vehicles for live performance.
There are 32 poems in the collection, including two of her most famous: 'Still I Rise' and 'Phenomenal Woman.' The volume is presented in three sections, the first of which is called Touch Me, Life, Not Softly and contains eight poems. The second section, Traveling, contains 15 poems, including 'Through the Inner City to the Suburbs' and 'Momma Welfare Roll.' The final section, And Still I Rise, contains the title poem, 'Still I Rise,' among eight others.
Most of Angelou's work, including the poems in this collection, was inspired by the struggles experienced by African American women in the long history of oppression and discrimination in America. And Still I Rise begins and ends with affirmations of strength and the joy of living, while the middle section focuses on the hardships of life as an African American woman.
African Heritage and Experience
Maya Angelou found hope and courage from learning about the stories of her African ancestors. Slavery in America stripped men and women not only of their freedom, but of their culture and identity as well.
Born in 1928, Angelou experienced firsthand the continuing discrimination toward African Americans long after slavery ended. In her early years, she held a variety of jobs in order to survive before finding her niche as a writer. The hard path walked by most black Americans was always a part of the thematic background in Angelou's writing and is featured in the second section of And Still I Rise.
In considering the themes of affirmation of strength, confidence, and joy portrayed in the first and third sections of And Still I Rise, it's important to know that Angelou was raped at the age of eight, and struggled all her young life to rebuild her own self-image and confidence. The story of her tragic assault is told in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and continues to resurface in the author's poetry. Although the message is specifically aimed at women of color, women of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds generally find Angelou's work inspiring and empowering. In fact, the poem 'Still I Rise' came to be used in an advertising campaign for the United Negro College Fund.
'Still I Rise'
The title poem, 'Still I Rise,' is typical of Angelou's work, both in format and in theme. The opening stanza introduces the central theme of strength and resiliency in the face of extreme difficulties:
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.
Now considering the final stanza of the poem, notice how the line 'I rise' is repeated five times total, with the thrice-repeated final lines driving home her simple and powerful message of flourishing as an African American woman:
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Like many of Maya Angelou's poems, 'Still I Rise' features short, straightforward statements speaking directly to the reader. The intended audience is widespread: women of color, other women, young girls, and men. She aims her very personal message at society as a whole, forcefully presenting her demand for fairness and recognition.
Another iconic poem in this collection by Maya Angelou is entitled 'Phenomenal Woman,' which is how Angelou envisioned herself and wished for all women to feel living in a patriarchal society. The concept of strength and confidence disturbing the status quo is addressed in this poem.
Each stanza of this poem begins with a description of the attention the speaker gets from both men and women. Then the poet explains some of her ability to attract such attention, ending each stanza with the lines: 'Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That's me.' For example, examine the third stanza:
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can't see.
It's the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
This is a poem about incredible confidence in a woman's demeanor and attitude: confidence without deliberately attracting attention. It appears in the first section of the collection And Still I Rise.
Maya Angelou is well known as both an autobiographer and a poet. The collection And Still I Rise and its title poem 'Still I Rise' carry Angelou's message of strength and encouragement for African American women specifically and all women who struggle in patriarchal systems. The book is organized into three sections, including Touch Me, Life, Not Softly, Traveling, and And Still I Rise. Angelou's legacy of both prose and poetry has inspired power and confidence in generations of women and others who struggle with identity and daily hardships. 'Phenomenal Woman' especially speaks to this power and confidence.