And Still I Rise

Maya (1928- ) Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri. For those who are unaware of this brilliant personality, a little introduction follows.

Maya was a playwright, actress, dancer, memoirist, singer and a civil rights activist who overcame her early experiences and went onto become America’s most visible public poet. I read about her for the first time in a course text book. The subject deals with society and its various aspects such as that of caste, gender, race, violence, etc. After reading the article, I can never forget her name, her style, her courage and her wit. Not surprisingly, she is the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at the Wake Forest University. She has written five autobiographical works, including ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, ‘The Heart of a Woman’, and the one which I have read, ‘And Still I Rise’. She has been a vocal spokeswoman for the black community. Against the contemptuous attitude that the whites had against the blacks and the double segregation that existed being black and a woman, she faced racism and gender bias together.

For a woman who is doubly oppressed, ‘And Still I Rise’ is a piece of writing that shows a fighter, a spirited person – one whose main aim is to rise against all the oppression, despite every act that suppresses her. It is an intensely inspirational poem and leaves one deeply motivated to live one’s life with pride. The title is that of rebellion, and conveys a positive mood. The poet begins with the thought of how history gives to us several important events, ones which are grand, ones that change nations, whilst the stories of lesser consequences, ones that are bland and uninteresting, are ignored and left unattended. Stories that deal with the life of an ordinary woman, her daily routines of taking care of her family, keeping forth others needs before her own and being visibly alienated from major decision making are consciously deleted from the pages of history. Female historians emerged at the turn of the twentieth century. Thus, there was no one to push for these ordinary causes. However, one can find great volumes on wars, inventions and such other vital themes. What we know of the past affects our present and even our future. Thus, history is dyed with important and political hues.

Moreover, blacks, at that time, were treated like slaves, and texts evidencing this discrimination are witness to this. They were not thought worthy to be looked at, which was a big blow to their self esteem and their morale.

The next few paragraphs read out the physical attractiveness of a woman which make her superior to men and also a vision of seduction and lust by those very men.

Maya believes that the pride of a woman should exist in mastering her circumstances, wherein she is rich (because she possesses what the white men crave for and in a society where blacks and whites are not allowed to intermingle, this make the whites upset). It is clearly visible that these men want the women to be broken and unhappy with respect to their poverty. Yet, she is going to bounce back. Her response to all the oppression will be to come out and fight against it. People want the oppressed to cry, be weak. Yet, she must remember that she is not weak.

Maya talks about the attitude that a woman should possess. They should dance for what they hold, and feel the freedom that they have.

Stress is laid on the shameful history of the whites having enslaved the black. This poem refuses to accept this shame and reflects it on the whites for their inhumane acts. This is the poet’s way of stating that this oppression shall not be welcomed in the future. There is a sense of movement, of rebellion against the past – of procuring a more glitzy future embraced with hope and dignity. This is an unstoppable force and a strong hope for a clearer future.

The power, strength and force of the words in the poem intervene one with the text. One can feel the pain of the meek giving rise to a desire to lead a righteous life. This hits one hard and is an educator on fighting back without losing faith or hope. It is not about bearing the pains and living out a life of punishment but of correcting the wrongs and peacefully and righteously living one’s life. One can not miss the positive voice of the poet. It is motivation, an idea, a hope to keep rising.

Puja Wattal

[Image courtesy:]