“Prescience” by Maya Angelou
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Maya Angelou is an American author, poet, playwright, editor, director, actress, and teacher. She is internationally recognized, and has written best-selling titles such as “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, “Gather Together in My Name”, “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting Merry Like Christmas”, and “The Heart of a Woman”. Maya Angelou is born on April 4th, 1928 and raised in St. Louis, Mo. One of her poems, not too famous, is called “Prescience”, and it is also the poem that I will depict throughout this commentary.
When I first read the title, “Prescience”, I, not knowing any better, thought the poem was in regard to the time before technology. I did not realize, until later, that my definition was nowhere near what Maya Angelou intended for it to be. The poem focused on love, which was its main theme as well. Not the feeling when one is in love, but when one is hurt through love; in other words, heartbroken. The poem depicts why the victim shouldn’t have fallen in love in the first place; the victim being the speaker. However, I found this out only after I was given the poem of “Prescience”.
When you are given a poem, a powerful rush of confusion and adrenaline starts to swirl around your head as you stare at the several meaningless words that you know you have to try to understand. This is what happened to me, as I panicked about writing regarding something I had no clue about. Once I had scanned through the poem numerous times, I decided to get started on my analyzing. When I began to study the first verse of “Prescience”, the first three words, “Had I known” already began to give the poem some character.
I realized it brought instant mystery to the reader and started to draw at least a little attention. As I read on through stanza one, I started to see what the poem meant. I found that from lines 2-4, the poem portrays that many aspects of misery unfold when one is depressed or has a broken heart, “breaks slowly, dismantling itself/ into unrecognizable plots of/ misery,”. The lines also show that as time passes during a broken heart, one gets deeper and deeper into unhappiness; many issues develop. E. g. starting with pain and eventually transitioning into loneliness.
Some of the feelings that one would feel are even indescribable and the words for these feelings are unknown. I believe that this is where “unrecognizable plots of/ misery,” comes in. The comma at the end of the word misery shows that the sentence, line or concept is unfinished and that the phrase drifts off, adding a sense of ambiguity. Although Stanza Two is only a couple of words longer, it emanates much more depth and figuration in its inexplicit passage. As I seeped into the beginning of this verse, I noticed that it began with “Had I known” as well.
I made a note of this and continued to study through the lines. I depict, that in the phrase “the heart would leak/ slobbering its sap, with a vulgar/ visibility,” (lines 1-3), the poem states that the heart shows its pain, lets out some of all the emotion that’s trapped inside. The vulgar visibility is that people (“dressed-up dining-rooms of strangers,”) can see all the emotion and pain that oozes out of a victim of the broken heart, as it shows through the sufferer’s face, body language, voice, and appearance in general.
Another way of interpreting lines 1-3, is that the person may drink (alcohol) so much, that all his emotion may pour out to several strangers. In my opinion, this verse produces fairly strong imagery, as I can imagine the heart literally leaking, just like a freshly carved tree, its sap streaming down its sides, burdening and exposing itself onto a roomful of strangers. I would call this stanza an explication, as there is a definite underlying meaning which doesn’t take merely a couple of seconds to figure out. Unlike the first verse, this one is more figurative.
Lurking into the Third Stanza, I was happy to admit that analyzing poems wasn’t as difficult as I had initially thought it to be. Taking a short scan through this verse, I already had a vague picture about it was going to be concerning. I had started to perceive a pattern in the beginning of the stanzas; “Had I known” seemed to mean more than I thought it did. Because of this wonderment, I decided to take a look at the title of the poem and search for any relevance between the popular phrase and the poem’s heading, “Prescience”. I found this a rather queer name for a poem that acknowledged of a broken heart.
Then, I realized I was maybe just assuming of the meaning of prescience and did not know what it actually meant, which encouraged me to look it up in the dictionary. The dictionary definition of the term almost immediately eased me, “having foreknowledge or foresight”; this is certainly related to “Had I known”, and now that I knew the reason for the stanza beginnings, I was satisfied. Reading on, I knew the clear meanings of the poem from lines 1-2. , “solitude could/ stifle the breath, loosen the joint,” and realized that they were fairly literal, not too metaphorical.
The lines simply stated the weakness of a person who is lonely, and how that person cannot breathe (live) properly, and feels without animation; unable to move properly with confidence. In other words, how isolation can make someone feel so miserable. The rest of the verse, “and force the tongue against the palate”, is a little deeper and more figurative. It portrays how loneliness (same origination) can result in forced speaking; incontrollable tongue-tying. This was what I thought before I searched for ‘Palate’ in the thesaurus. It was described as “taste” or “appreciation”. This is when another hidden meaning unraveled in my mind.
I suddenly thought of these lines as forced optimism, instead of forced speaking. I believe that Stanza Four was the most complex as yet. There was a good deal of metaphor and unknown vocabulary. I decided that the first thing to do was look up the two unrecognizable words, “keloid” and “cicatrix”. Keloid, in the dictionary was explained as “a fibrous tissue formed at a scar or injury”, while cicatrix was described as “a mark left by a healed wound”. After mentally noting these meanings down, I looked over the whole stanza, “Had I known that loneliness could/ keloid, winding itself around the/ body in an ominous and beautiful cicatrix”.
First of all, the “Had I known” was still continuing its pattern at the beginning of the verses. Secondly, I noticed the metaphorical use in the passage. I found out that keloid is a result of injury (according to the dictionary), while loneliness is the result of a broken heart. When the poem states of loneliness and how it can keloid, it means to depict of loneliness and how it radiates itself from the body. When the poem demonstrates loneliness winding itself around the body to form a cicatrix, it is figuratively illustrating emotional scarring.
The two adjectives in between, ominous and beautiful, add a touch of mystifying contradicting. Ominous is described as threatening, while beautiful is portrayed as lovely. This ends up as an emotional scar that produces not only an unpleasant memory, but one that is pleasant as well. After unraveling the explication in Stanza Four, I noticed signs of imagery and (obviously) metaphor use. The imagery occurs as you imagine a swirl of loneliness literally winding around someone’s body. There are strong words used such as winding, ominous and beautiful that encourages the imagery.
Metaphor use is quite obvious as I have explained it previously. The Fifth Stanza is where the tone changes entirely. Although it also begins with “Had I known”, it starts to actually describe the person he/she loves or should I say, loved, unlike the preceding verses where the victim only describes the feeling of a broken heart. This passage has a very literal and obvious concept. There is practically no allegorizing. The stanza merely illustrates the features and all the aspects that made him love her, “your brash and insolent beauty, / your heavy comedic fade/ and knowledge of sweet/ delights,”.
The tone started to become slightly unknown and mysterious again, as I once again did not have a clue. The Sixth verse is the final and concluding passage. Unlike the other stanzas, it does not begin with “Had I Known”, instead it begins with “But”. This detail also gave me the impression that this is not a passage like the others. “But from a distance/ I would have left you whole and wholly”, means that the person should have been aloof with the person he/ she loved and left him/ her alone. The next few lines in this stanza are the most interesting: “for the delectation of those who wanted more and cared less”.
Delectation means pleasure or enjoyment. Basically, what the line interprets, is that the victim should have left her for others; players, who wanted to use her and abuse her. The tone in this stanza changes completely from the others, and is colder, bitter, and more in control, while the others sound helpless. A tiny detail that I noticed was that the stanza ended with a full stop instead of a comma, which points out that the poem has come to an end, and so have the thoughts. The overall effect of the poem is quite interesting.
After I read the whole poem I felt a pang of sympathy for the heartbroken victim, as he had no idea what was coming to him. The first four stanzas portrayed the overall feeling of how one would feel if one was suffering form a broken heart. “Had I known” is the main pattern that relates to the title and theme, “Prescience”. As I mentioned earlier on, Prescience means having foreknowledge or foresight. The phrase automatically related to the definition as the victim regrets all that happened, and if he had foresighted, if he had known, then none of this would have happened.
Stanza Five gives an impression of confusion once again, and made me wonder whether there was any hidden meaning for this passage or not. Once I realized that there wasn’t, I calmed down a little bit and read on. There is no tone for this passage as it doesn’t give you any feeling. The last verse is my favorite. The effect that it gave me was mostly based on relief and I was given the vibe of bitterness that was depicted. All in all, the poem brought me feelings of sympathy and satisfaction. Not for me, but for the reader of this poem.