‘Still I Rise’ is a typical Maya Angelou poem in terms of its subject matter, but what really sets it apart is the kind of visual stimulation it provides to readers. We shall find evidence of this time and time again in our analysis of the poem.
The first seven stanzas of the poem show a simple ABCB rhyme scheme. However, the final, longer stanza has a slightly different rhyme scheme. For ease of scansion, we can divide it into three units. The first unit, consisting of lines one to six of the last stanza, have an ABABCC pattern. The second unit, consisting of lines seven to twelve, have a similar pattern, that is, DBDBEE. The third unit, consisting of lines thirteen to fifteen of the last stanza, consist of BBB. B, in all three units, is “I rise.”
It is best to analyse ‘Still I Rise’ in terms of clusters of images. The images of rising, for example, occur in the first, third, and sixth stanzas. Angelou says that hope is what motivates women like her to rise, and she alternately compares her kind of rising with that of dust, air, and the tides. In any of these three cases, the upward movement signals an upheaval in the environment. Similarly, says Angelou, if women stand up for themselves, they shall be able to bring about social upheaval, and thereby effect a positive change in the economic and political situation of black women in the American society of their times.
Exaggerated images of financial security occur in the second, fifth, and seventh stanzas (as explained in the summary). However, the only function of these images is not to contribute to a light tone within this poem that voices such grim concerns. Through these images, Angelou seems to be saying that the white male population is so materialistic and mercenary that the only way in which they view her confidence and pride is through imagining that she looks as if she were very rich. In their system of values, only the rich can afford to be defiant, and all others must remain silently downtrodden (as the images of drooping shoulders, bowed head, lowered eyes, teardrops, and weakened cries in the fourth stanza show). Among these images – of oil wells, gold mines, and diamonds between her thighs – the third one is especially interesting. By designating the location of the diamonds as being part of her body, Angelou is saying that even though black women have traditionally been taught to be ashamed of their bodies, they in fact value their bodies, and believe they are as beautiful as diamonds.
In defining herself as sassy, haughty, and sexy, Angelou outlines the kinds of behaviour that are not expected from black women, but that they manifest within themselves anyway. “Sassiness”, in particular, has the connotation of behaviour that is inappropriate. However, Angelou does not consider her, or other African American women’s, behaviour as inappropriate, but rather celebrates the audacity with which they carry themselves in the majority-white and male-dominated world.
“History” is evoked in both the first and the last stanzas, with Angelou affirming that she has not forgotten her heritage. In a sense, Angelou is saying that all African-American people need to remember that their slave ancestors wanted a better world for their offspring, and that is the responsibility of Angelou’s generation to make sure that dream comes true. The importance of this notion to Angelou becomes even more obvious when one considers that she had just given birth to a child before writing this poem. She wants to leave only happiness for her child, and no painful memories of all the experiences that she and her ancestors had gone through. So she is resolved to swallow up all those memories within her as if she were the ocean, or a black hole. This can only happen when African-American women stand up in unison for respect, and bring about positive changes in society by asserting their pride in themselves as a collective. This is Angelou’s mission – to inspire her fellow women, and give them a message of hope and empowerment.
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Keywords – Still I Rise Analysis (5.0), Still I Rise poem analysis (5.9), Still I Rise critical analysis (4.9)