‘Touched by An Angel’ consists of three stanzas. The first stanza contains six lines, and therefore, it is a sestet. The second stanza contains an extra line, bringing the total to seven, and is therefore a septet. The third and final stanza similarly adds another extra line, bringing the total to eight, and is therefore an octave.
The poem as a whole is a beautiful testimony to the power of love. In it, the reader can follow a movement from the time before love’s arrival, to the moment at which it enters a human life, and finally to the effects it then has on that life. Sometimes the simplest poems express the profoundest of thoughts, and that is exactly what Angelou has done in ‘Touched by an Angel’.
Angelou begins the first stanza by outlining what she sees as unchangeable aspects of the universal human condition. She says that all of us human beings are prone to fear. In addition to this, says Angelou, we also shy away from the chance to be happy. And implicitly, she says that we can only be happy in human company, for humans are social creatures. However, we do not seek out such company, and as a result, our isolation makes us lonely. But love is a solution to this predicament. Love is hard to find. But once we do find it, love sets us free – free from the bondage of a life lived away from the company of others.
The second stanza begins at the point when love has already arrived. Angelou says that love does not come alone. Love brings with it a long train of “ecstasies.” “Ecstasy” is defined as a trance-like state in which a person transcends normal consciousness. Angelou uses it in the sense that a man or woman touched by the presence of love leaves the normally complacent state of human existence behind, and experiences a heightened emotional state. In that state, old memories – both of joy and pain – come back with equal urgency. However, this is not a traumatic experience. Love prevents it from being so, for love eradicates the fears that were present in man before its arrival, provided we take the necessary step to accept love into our lives. Here Angelou employs the imagery of chains and shackles breaking away, and her verse is so evocative that the reader can watch it happening in front of his mind’s eye.
In the third stanza, love is said to light up our lives and thereby remove all the timidity and hesitancy with which we proceed in our lives under normal circumstances. In saying so, Angelou implicitly compares love with the sun, whose light is what lends humanity its ability to exist on the earth. Love makes us brave, says Angelou, unlike the fear we had been accustomed to before its arrival.
Angelou ends the poem with what seems to be a contradiction, but that, on closer examination, will b found to be a philosophical truth. She says that we must sacrifice our all in the service of love, but in return we will not feel that love has power has power and control over us. Instead, we will be able to experience true freedom – freedom from all the things that had been an inhibitory force standing in the way of a beautiful life. Thus it becomes clear in the end that the ‘angel’ referred to in the title is none other than love.
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