The poem “Still I Rise” was written in 1978 by an African American poet and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou. The poem reflects the themes of finding self-love and self-confidence, as well as resistance to hatred and oppression. It is set within the social context of when and where the poem was published (St. Louis, MO). The author rises above everything negative that has happened to her – “bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and the hope of the slave” (Angelou, lines 39-40). Maya Angelou shows her strength because she can rise again no matter what, despite slanderous people and unfavorable circumstances. The author writes a poem about fighting for what is right even when people are trying to belittle her; she proclaims the power of courage by using symbolism, historical context, and emotional refrains.
Maya Angelou uses symbolism to represent ideas that are beyond the literal meaning. For instance, Angelou compares herself to dust, “But still, like dust, I’ll rise,” which people try to tread on and crunch, but it still lifts up in the air (Angelou, line 4). Whatever ill-wishers do, they will not be able to suppress the author’s spirit and blacken her name. Angelou weaves symbolic images of oil and diamonds into the text to underline her courageous and independent attitude that only wealthy people can allow themselves (eNotes Editorial). This shows that she is proud of herself and knows her worth because she walks like she “got oil wells / Pumping in [her] living room” (Angelou, line 7). With her poetry, the author also encourages and empowers the black community to fight back for what is right for them (Corfman, 2016). In the eighth stanza, her words about “black ocean, leaping and wide” symbolize black people, acting as immensity and energy (Angelou, line 33). Strong and confident herself, Angelou wants to uplift her people; she tells the readers they have to rise and fight for the black community.
The author uses historical context to pave the way for discussing various themes, such as slavery. Additionally, historical context is used to enhance the full understanding of the poem through “the huts of history’s shame / I rise / Up from a past that’s rooted in pain” (Angelou, lines 28-30). Angelou uses historical context to show the appalling living conditions of black people during slavery and the oppression they went through under colonialism. She applies historical context in confronting the oppressors (Chen, 2019). In the first stanza, Angelou states, “You may write me down in history / With your bitter, twisted lies” to imply that the oppressors can shape how history will remember her (Angelou, lines 1-2). She shows resilience and willingness to fight back, saying, “You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise” (Angelou, lines 3-4). The author does not fight only for herself; her courage inspires others who doubt themselves or feel incapable.
Angelou mocks the controversial cultural perceptions of Black women as less attractive but still being frequent victims of sexual assault in the past. She challenges the common historical lies that the oppressors developed to support racism and the irrational hatred directed at black people (Robinson). “Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise,” she asks, making a big nod to Black women’s rape in American history (Angelou, lines 24-25). Therefore, the historical context has been used to show how black society is ready to confront the historical lies of the oppressors. The author encourages the black community to get over the systemic lies and fight for what is right, even when the oppressors say otherwise.
Angelou uses repetition in the poem to emphasize the idea of her rising. She already knows that many people want to see her fail, but she rebels against this idea with her heart (Corfman, 2016). The phrase “Still… I’ll rise” is used eleven times in the poem to reaffirm her focus on being successful no matter what society sees of her (Henderson). “I’ll rise” or “I rise” are constantly repeated to show the reader that it is the central theme of the poem (eNotes Editorial). It manifests the poem’s importance in rising against oppression and systematic injustices aimed at black people. Therefore, repetition is used by the author to reaffirm to the audience that they should not give up on fighting for what is right, and finally, they will rise.
The poem “Still I Rise” is an ode to the bravery and resilience with which a person can overcome any obstacles, both personal and socio-historical. It encourages black society to fight for what is right by showing them their worth. The author uses symbolic terms such as oil, diamonds, and black ocean to show them the value of the black community. Moreover, Maya Angelou uses historical context to show the black community, the poor state that oppressors had forced them into, and the lies they put down in history to cover up. This enlightens the black community about the aims of the oppressors hence encouraging them to fight back. Therefore, people should continue reading this poem because it enables them to work towards their goals no matter the drawbacks. Finally, this piece contributes to society by advocating for the rights of the black community.
“What symbols are in the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou?” eNotes Editorial, 2015, Web.
Angelou, Maya. “Still I Rise.” Poetry Foundation, 1978, Web.
Chen, Wendy. “Still I Rise.” LitCharts LLC, 2019, Web.
Corfman, Allisa. “Analysis of Still I Rise by Maya Angelou.” Poem Analysis, 2016, Web.
Henderson, Stuart. “Repetition in the Poem Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou.” Scribd, Web.
Robinson, Ashley. “Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise: Poem Analysis.” Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise: Poem Analysis, Web.