Still I Rise

Context

  • Maya Angelou was a pioneering African-American poet who wrote about feminism as well as racism in her poems and her prose.

  • 'Still I Rise' is about a person who is fed up of being put down by people, but she is rising up instead.

  • The narrative voice is both specific to Maya Angelou and can be seen as the voice of black women in America

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Imagery

  • 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells/Pumping in my living room' - suggests through vivid imagery the narrator's confidence due to her metaphorical richness.  Strong verb 'pumping' which goes alongside and reinforces the strong rhythm of the poem.

  • ‘Just like moons and like suns,/With the certainty of tides,/ Just like hopes springing high,/ Still I'll rise.’This is effective as she is showing how her rising is like a cosmic force which cannot be stopped and occurs naturally.  Suns also suggest power, brightness and heat, all of which can be connected to the speaker.

  • ‘Did you want to see me broken?/Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops,/ Weakened by my soulful cries?’ Angelou addresses the implied reader of the poem who is positioned as the person repressing her, asking them whether they want to see her broken down from repression.  'Bowed head and lowered eyes' is a traditional position of weakness and slavery, referring to her background. Using the simile of 'shoulders falling down like teardrops' shows the low self-esteem they want her to have, connecting her very body to the emotions she should be experiencing.  This has a heavy impact on the reader.

  • ‘That I dance like I've got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs?’ Angelou also uses imagery to show the narrator's sexual power, showing her worth and beauty, but also her defiance of the reader who wants to shame her.  She is worth far more than they are.

  • As the pace quickens in the final stanzas, so do the images. 'the huts of history's shame' refers to the slave huts, made emphatic by alliteration.  'I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide', shows her power as a black woman in society and also her relationship to the inevitable and overpowering natural world.  

  • Angelou thus connects imagery to abstract ideas through metaphor and simile in order to more vividly express her power.

  • She moreover juxtaposes 'nights of terror and fear' and a 'daybreak that's wondrously clear', again connecting herself to the sun and showing a new dawn for people like her, which is always rising.

  • Therefore, 'Still I Rise' connects her to the rising sun in the very title.

Narrative Voice

  • Positioning of the reader with the direct pronoun 'You', creates a power monopoly, the reader being powerless to answer back

  • 'You may write me down in history with you bitter, twisted lies', shows the speaker saying that people might do this with lies based on jealousy and ill-intent, but nevertheless, she will rise ahainst them.

  • Angelou characterises her enemy as inherently 'lesser', as 'bitter, twisted' and also worth less than her with the repeated momentary images.

  • 'Sassiness' can be seen throughout the narrative voice.  Rhetorical questions show her confrontational nature, not allowing the reader to answer back.  A conversational tone shows her lack of respect for traditional poetic form, which is also beneath her. Example of this may be seen in 'Cause', and 'Diggin'.

  • Repetition of 'I rise' acts like a refrain in a song and also gets more frequent in the poem until at the end where we have a three-fold repetition, creating a sense of mystical triumph.

  • This shows the speaker's determination and also convinces us that she is rising as the poem goes on.  The present tense of 'I rise' show that she is doing so even as we read the poem.

  • Voice is both that of Maya Angelou but also that of 'the dream and the hope of the slave', something abstract made concrete.  This makes her voice more powerful, as it contains these abstract ideas within it.

Structure

  • The poem starts out with seven stable stanzas (quatrains), after which the form begins to break down and eventually simply turns into the repeated phrase 'I rise'.  Form can be seen as something restricting a poet - in breaking the form she is also breaking her chains symbolically.

  • Rhyme varies in the stanzas, generally with the second and fourth line rhyming, occasionally with another also rhyming with them.  We always have at least one word that rhymes or is 'rise', showing the inevitability of this rising motion.

  • Rhyme also propels the rhythm which has a strong beat in the poem (trochaic rhythm), resembles a marching beat which keeps her going and forces her forwards towards the inevitable rise at the end of the poem

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