Maya Angelou


Still I Rise

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.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

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.

I quote Maya Angelou when introducing Tied (2007) and I can’t speak about Maya without speaking about her poem Still I Rise. 

Still I Rise remains one of my favourite poems of all time, engraved in my heart since the day I first read it. And really, it needs no introduction or commentary; it poignantly speaks for itself. 

All I will say is that I don’t think I have come across any other poem which portrays the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of constant struggle as intensely as Angelou’s. I’ve never come across another poem that renders so forcefully the grit of those who won’t be crushed by others’ trampling boots and bruising blows.

And as a woman this poem takes on a whole other level of meaning for me. I think every woman has at some point experienced the dogged determination of some men who seem to believe it’s their God-given right to quash, deny, dismiss, sideline, silence, subdue, intimidate, all just to hoist themselves up by malignantly putting you down. Many women have had to fight twice as hard to be even allowed entry, let alone be granted a seat at the table. And those among us who know what racism and/or homophobia looks like will recognise the ugly face of this villainy even more intimately.

Yet unlike the tears of frustration that swell in my eyes when I face these lies, what strikes me is the humour and confidence, or as Angelou says, the “sassiness” she displays in the face of these wretched fools that she so superbly defies. 

But ultimately this is a poem for all underdogs, irrespective of gender, all of us who, as The Script sang, “turn the pain into power, every day, every hour”. I hope that when you’re down and struggling, Angelou’s words will ring in your ears, that you’ll remember that notwithstanding it all “still, like air, (you’ll) rise”. And I pray we may all learn to carry Angelou’s poise, her spirit, her strength, her sassiness, her laughter in the face of all the naysayers’ noise and their distasteful ploys.

So if you ever need inspiration to carry on, if you ever want to see what perseverance looks like, learn about Maya Angelou. She was a person that was bigger than life who withstood incredible trials and tribulations. The earliest of these was her rape as a 7-year old by her mother’s boyfriend, a tragedy which led to her loss of speech for the following 5 years. But, like her poem, her life is the embodiment of the phoenix rising from its ashes. During those 5 years she educated herself in all things literature, reading all of Shakespeare’s plays for example; an education which served her well when she later went into theatre and entered the Harlem Writers Guild. Maya became a performer, a playwright, a director, an essayist, a poet, an author, as well as a civil rights activist working alongside Dr Martin Luther King and Malcom X, all whilst raising a son as a single mother from the age of 17. 

See the link below for a biography on Maya by The Poetry Foundation but if you want to find out more about her, there are lots of documentaries and interviews on Youtube that I’d recommend having a look at.

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