This is a solid critical essay at Int 2 level on the poem ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou. It’s not perfect – some of the language is basic, and the repetition of ‘she’ when we could use ‘the narrator’ or ‘Angelou’ to vary the vocabulary is quite annoying after a while. However, there is some very strong analysis and evaluation throughout, and although she deviates from a strict PEE structure, she still has these points within all her paragraphs.
Have a read over and compare the structure, use of language and depth of analysis with your own work.
Question from Intermediate 2 Literature paper 2006:
Choose a poem which arouses strong emotion in you.
State what it is about the subject of the poem which makes you feel strongly, and go on to show how the poet’s use of language reinforces these feelings.
A poem which is bound to arouse a strong emotional response from the reader is ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou. It would be difficult not to have a reaction to a poem that deals with the sensitive topic of racism. Angelou skilfully manages to take a subject as macabre as racism and leave the reader of her poem feeling both angry and proud at the same time.
Angelou’s poem deals with racism in an interesting way. She presents us with an insight into what life was like for a black woman in the social hot bed that was 1950’s America. We see the nasty, vicious side that accompanies racism but she also shows us how the human spirit can triumph and “rise” above even the most horrible aspects of life. The poem sends out a powerful message. Her message is that no matter what her oppressors do to her, she will stand up and fight. She will not allow herself to be “beaten” or “broken”. It is the way in which she deals with the subject of racism that allows us to feel a swell of pride in the strength of the woman.
It is the extent of the abuse that Angelou and people like her suffered that allows us to feel proud of the fact that she stood up for herself.
“You may write me down in history
with your bitter twisted lies”
The fact that Angelou uses the words “bitter” and “twisted” allude to the horrible things that coloured people had to put up with in America. We get the impression that this abuse had been going on for years because she says that it had been written “down in history”. Meaning that black people had always been seen as inferior and treated as a sub species. Angelou’s plight makes us feel angry about the way she was treated.
“You may trod me in the very dirt”
“trod” suggests that Angelou was beaten down and stomped on by a society that wouldn’t tolerate her. She was literally treated like “dirt” as if she was nothing.
Despite the horrendous abuse she suffered she stood tall and took it in her stride.
“But still, like dust, I rise”
In this simile Angelou turns her earlier comparison to dirt on its head. She compares herself not to the dirt but to the dust that rises up when something has been trampled on. Even though she has been trampled on, she will rise above it. We can’t help but feel proud of the fact that someone subjected to such abuse would simply rise above it.
The fact is, Angelou will continue to rise above the abuse no matter what is thrown at her.
“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides.
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.”
She compares herself to the moon, sun and flowing tides. These are all things that happen every day. We know the sun will rise, we know the tides will drift in and out. These things are inevitable, just like Angelou rising up against her oppressors. She refuses to allow herself become another victim.
The message that Angelou will continue to rise above the abuse is obvious in the way in which she addresses her oppressors.
“Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?”
She uses rhetorical questions to brazenly ask them what they want to see. She doesn’t want to allow them see her spirit “broken”. She knows they expect her to walk around with “lowered eyes” as if she doesn’t deserve to live. She is almost arrogant in the way she asks these questions because she knows she will never succumb to their abuse.
“Does my sassiness upset you?”
She teases them by claiming she is sassy and confident. She knows that society would not tolerate a confident black woman, so she rubs the fact that she is strong in their faces.
She continues this idea that she is above her station throughout the poem:
“Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room”
She claims that she walks around as if she had oil wells (which would make her wealthy). The idea that a black woman would be wealthy in 50’sAmericawould seem ridiculous. However, she wants to tell everybody that she walks as if she is wealthy, ignoring the fact that she could never be. We cannot help but admire her attitude.
In the final stanza Angelou drives home her message that she will overcome racism.
“Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
She alludes to the painful past her ancestors have had by referring to the “huts” that her people need to emerge from. She describes how deeply imbedded this idea of inferiority is in her people’s psyche by comparing it to the roots of trees. Despite all of this pain and suffering she will continue to “rise”. The repetition of this phrase in the final stanza helps us to see her determination.
She says that people can count on her to stand up and fight:
“I’m a black ocean”
By using this metaphor, she suggests that she is big and strong. She is vast and unstoppable, just like the sea.
“I am the dream and the hope of the slave”
She sees herself as the embodiment of hope. She has dared to be confident and feels that others should do the same. She concludes the poem with simple repetition of
When we see this we feel an immense swell of pride and happiness. We know that this woman has endured horrible cruelty but is still standing tall. She has beaten her would be oppressors by rising above them.
“Still I Rise” is a poem that deals with a horrific subject like racism and yet, leaves the reader feeling a sense of happiness and pride. The fact that we feel this way is testament to Angelou’s skill as a poet. She takes us in and shows us what she has to deal with. She shows the reader that the human spirit can overcome anything. Her refusal to be “broken” should be an inspiration to everyone.