Analysis of the poem “Still I Rise”
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African Americans have been oppressed for centuries. Despite this discrimination, people of this race have fought hard for their freedom and respect. This pursuit of equality is evident inMaya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”. Angelou integrates numerous literary ideas such as various sounds, poetry forms, and key concepts.The poetic devices incorporated in Maya Angelou’s work, “Still I Rise”,heightens the overall effectiveness of the poem.
Maya Angelou uses several sound techniques throughout her poem. The first one that is especially evident is rhyming. The rhyming scheme for the first seven stanzas are A, B, C, and B. On the last stanza it’s A,B,A,B,B,B,C,B,C,B,D,D,B,B,B. Direct quotes where she incorporated this device are, in the second line of the fifth stanza, “Don’t you take it awful hard”, and the fourth line, “Diggin’ in my own back yard.”Angelou wrote the poem in this manner because it helps to enhance the lyrical element created by the rhyming. This ultimately allows the reader to better interpret the thoughts and feelings of the poet. Repetition is another literary device apparent throughout the poem. The most prominent phrase that is repeated numerous times is, “I rise” (41).
This is hugely significant to the poem as it reflects the main idea, that Angelou will be superior to any prior racial generalizations. Stating it frequently addresses its importance and communicates to the reader what Angelou aspires to be. On two occasions, Angelou uses alliterations. The examples include, “I dance like I’ve got diamonds”(27) and “…huts of history’s shame”(29). The use of this device contributes toward the overall fluidity of the poem. Lastly, the use of assonances, such as, “Welling and swelling” adds to the musical element of the poem through the corresponding vowels in the first and last words. The use of rhyming, repetition, alliterations, and assonances, allows Angelou to express her emotions in a lyrical manner.
Lyrical poems express the thoughts and feelings of the poet in a manner which creates musical fluidity. They also often possess elements includingrhyming, rhythm and imagery. Angelou incorporates rhyming into her poem on numerous occasions. By rhyming the last words of two lines such as “surprise” and “ thighs, and “eyes” and “rise”, the poet is able to express her opinion on racial discrimination with words that create a lyrical rhythm. The rhythm is formed by the unique metre used. For most of the stanzas, the first three lines stress negative syllables and then the last line is iambic, and stresses positive syllables.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. (20-24)
In this example, words such as shoot, cut, kill and hate are emphasized. However in the last line, the words still, air and rise are stressed. This is a key component of the lyrical poem as the choice of rhythm and metre allows the reader to comprehend Angelou’s feelings on a deeper level. Finally, through descriptive and creative diction, Angelou creates exquisite imagery. Her choice of diction allows the reader to develop vivid mental images. “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,/ Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.”(33-34), is an example of a metaphor which captures the profoundness of her statement through the image of the black ocean. Angelou’s “Still I rise”, is a reflection of a lyrical poem as it encapsulates all of the components: rhyming, rhythm and imagery, in a manner which communicates her optimism regarding discrimination, with a high degree of effectiveness.
Key concepts which exist within this poem included the use of smiles, imagery, symbolism, denotation, connotation and couplets. Angelou uses similes to compare society’s perception of her and what the reality actually is. The simile, “Just like moons and like suns,/With the certainty of tides,/Just like hopes springing high,/Still I’ll rise”(9-12) depicts how she overcomes these generalizations. Like the natural elements of the moon, sun, and the tides, Angelou will rise above racial discrimination. Angelou uses this simile to provoke greater imagery to the reader through rhyming and creative word choice. Also by doing this she enhances the lyrical style and adds deeper meaning to it. Imagery is also apparent in each stanza. The imagery, “Does my sassiness upset you?/ Why are you beset with gloom?/ ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got/oil wells/Pumping in my living room”(5-8) describes how the poet will carry herself with confidence and as if she possesses a high status in society.
Oil is a highly profitable resource. Angelou’s figurative expression that she has oil pumping in her living room addresses how she in a sense, possesses superiority and how that irritates black oppressors because she has risen above the impoverished lifestyles of her ancestors. The use of this figurative language allows the reader to develop a clear sense of Angelou’s demeanour, in a creative manner. In addition, Angelou uses symbolism as a way of expressing the equality that she is trying to achieve in society. The quote, “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,/I am the dream and the hope of the slave”(39-40) portrays how she is a product of the freedom her ancestor’s fought for during the Civil War.
This symbolism contributes towards the overall effectiveness of the poem because it addresses the main idea, and how she is rising above the inferior position of the slaves. Angelou uses denotation and connotation to enhance the importance of her rising above society’s generalizations. In the quote “I rise”(41), the word “rise” literally means to, “move from a lower position to a higher one; come or go up” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2014). The connotation is positive. Angelou is stating that she is an outcome of the liberation of her ancestors and she will rise above the deplorable conditions they endured as slaves. Therefore, her statement “I rise” (41) is a positive pursuit and reflects optimism.
Lastly, Angelou uses a variety of couplets which also helps to communicate the overall main idea with greater effectiveness. “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,/ Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.”(33-34), is an example of one of the couplets she used. Both lines possess the same metre of five. It is a closed couplet as there is a comma at the end of the first line and the words “wide” and “tide” rhyme, creating the unity between the two lines. The devices Angelou uses including: similes, imagery, symbolism, denotation, connotation and couplets, enhances the overall effectiveness of the poem and helps to reinforce the idea of “rising”.
Maya Angelou ensured a variety of devices were incorporated in her poem “Still I Rise”, to enhance the overall literary quality and to communicate her feelings to the reader with a higher degree of effectiveness. She did this through the use of poetic sound techniques, lyrical form, and key components such as symbolism and imagery. Maya Angelou’s poem is written with beautiful fluidity, and not only inspires people to rise above racial discrimination, but any oppression one might endure.
“Definition of rise in English:.” rise: definition of rise in Oxford dictionary (British & World English). N.p., n.d. Web. 14 July 2014.
“.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 14 July 2014.