We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

How do Rossetti and Angelou portray oppression in their poems, Cousin Kate and Still I Rise

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

Christina Rossetti and Maya Angelou were and are both female poets who, due to unfortunate geographical and historical circumstances, both faced oppression, in similar and dissimilar ways. Rossetti was an unmarried woman living in the Victorian era, a rarity in its self, and did a great deal of work for the Anglo-Catholic community across England with experience and interest in the establishments which specialised in helping “fallen women” (single mothers) who were looked down on in that day and age and gave inspiration to the story behind “Cousin Kate”, drawing sympathy toward these scorned women who society forgot and sneered at and brought a revolutionary approach to the matter to the public eye; maybe it just wasn’t their fault.

These women were ushered to the dark corners of society and looked down upon. Rossetti was concerned with “Christian Victorian woman’s resignation to mutability, unfulfilment and need for patient endurance. ” Angelou, a woman of African-American descent, lived through a great deal of the 20th century, witnessing many changes to the treatment of her kin: the Civil Rights Movement, assassination, the Ku Klux Klan (a group of extremists who preached hate against Catholics, blacks, homosexuals and Jews among others).

Her poem “Still I Rise” is concentrated on the rise of African Americans from oppression, a double whammy as she fights both the oppression for her people and also the personal oppression she may feel being a female voice when predominantly men were deemed stronger leaders. Structure

Rossetti uses a fairly solid rhyme pattern with a clear abcbdefe with some irregular exceptions, keeping the poem flowing and easy to read, getting the reader into a comfortable rhythm which makes the surprise twist in the tale in the end stanza all the more effective as it can slip in easily with the rest of the poem but the words chosen pulls attention to the ‘happy ending’.

Angelou also uses a common rhyming pattern of abcb apart from her last stanza. Cousin Kate” is a dramatic monologue but rather than the narrator just directing speech toward the reader, she speaks to and of the characters she’d mentioned earlier: the first stanza begins the story with her story (“I was a cottage maiden/Hardened by sun and air”) while the second is about the “great lord” she was scorned by, the third, fourth and fifth focussing on Kate and the last speaks to her son so the reader is almost a bystander rather than the primary receiver in this story.

Angelou tells no story but rather confronts the reader head on in a manner which is arguably more aggressive than assertive (“Did you want to see me broken? /Bowed head and lowered eyes? “), using rhetorical questions to start stanzas two, four, five and seven. These questions are not of a conversational nature but more of Angelou baiting the reader, provoking them to answer questions which are not so much awkward as they make you wonder if you would be awkward with the honest answer you would give. Both poems use the last stanza as a climax but in different ways.

Rossetti keeps the same format in the nature of the rhyming pattern and number of lines in stanza but with the sudden entry of a new character (“My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride, /Cling closer, closet yet;” ) and the deserved smugness of this woman, wrong by two people she loved, to have come out with the real prize which both of the traitors would love but cannot touch as Rossetti ends the poem with “Your father would give his lands for one [a son], / To wear his coronet” which expresses the lord’s eagerness to have an heir to his lands but, through his own wrong doings, let one of such value, (purity – “fair-haired”) as Kate had been but of more use, to slip through his fingers.

The climactic stanza in “Still I Rise” is a total contrast. Angelou discards the questions she had used earlier to force the reader to come to terms with their mentality as well as the regular rhyming patterns from her previous even stanzas, adopting a new pattern of abcbddebdbffbbb as she repeats “I rise” in a line of its own many times, using a technique known as anaphora which is used in many effective speeches, most prominently the speech of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King who used “I have a dream” repeatedly throughout his speech which shares the common cause of liberation with “Still I Rise”.

The words chosen and rhyming pattern turn the end of the poem into a sort of chant (“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, / I am the dream and the hope of the slave”), not dissimilar to the orders or chants black slaves would work to many years ago. The chant has a rallying effect which is, and was probably meant to be, quite intimidating to the reader with the repetition of the last phrase “I rise” thrice on their own respective lines giving an almost menacing power to the “black ocean”. Imagery The use of imagery is a technique used throughout and effectively throughout both poems. Rossetti starts with a sinister approach with the narrator being described as being “lured to his [the lord’s] palace home”.

As well as being a useful verb which fills the mind the sinister images, a lure is something used in hunting (a pursuit of the wealthy and upper class). This also gives the reader the impression that the narrator is the lord’s prey and therefore less than human and of a lower status than himself. Another piece of imagery which plays on this is the repetition of the word “thing”.

The narrator is constantly a thing (“His plaything”, “an unclean thing”, “an outcast thing”) after the first stanza, not described as beautiful or ugly or plain but also not given a rank of significance, pushed out of the way and shunned by others as she would have been in the Victorian society in which Rossetti lived. Angelou mainly uses the imagery of nature and wealth in “Still I Rise”.

After each rhetorical question, Angelou adds to the bait by informing the readers of why you would or should take offence to her actions, mainly relying on the fact that jealousy compels many to say something they regret but thought in the first place as every enforced provocation refers to the confidence Angelou has through hypothetical wealth i. e. “Does my haughtiness offend you? /don’t’ take it awful hard / ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard. ”

These also refers to the rather ugly and shaming historical reference that the white man used to own everything with the black slaves working beneath him to accumulate his wealth while he sat upon high and so it subliminally asks a provocative question: after all these years of progress from oppression, does it still anger the white man to know that the black man is his equal?

Or even more so of women, naturally vain and criticising of her fellows: how would the white women take it if “my [Angelou’s] sexiness upset[s] you”? These questions accuse the white people and many others of sticking to the traditional mindset of staying in your allocated place in society, much like Rossetti’s fallen women. Rossetti also uses wealth in her imagery although not in the way Angelou does. She never says anything with the blunt meaning of money but more of the idea of pretty possessions, the idea that because the lord had so much wealth he could adorn himself with all manner of decorations and discard of them at will with no care to the consequences, be them items or people.

Rossetti combines these two in the metaphors “He wore me like a silken knot, / He changed me like a glove,” expressing the ease at which men of power and wealth could have their way with whatever they wanted. The narrator also accuses Kate of being bought with “all your clothes and wedding-ring” which could be seen as a curse: she had been bought with nothing to repay the lord with other than being bound to him. Angelou also uses nature to emphasise her threatening point toward the white population that the rise of the black community was just as natural and it should be come to be accepted along with other natural phenomenons “Just like the moons and like suns,”.

Angelou carries on playing on the human nature of following logistics and finding safety in knowledge by unsettling them with a thought that they would find unwelcome; that the rise of the blacks was “with the certainty of tides,” as if nature herself was also in favour of the rise of the African Americans. Angelou continues in her attempts to unsettle the white population as she states “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,/Welling and swelling, I bear in the tide. “, giving the impression that this mass cannot be controlled or stopped, oppressed as they had been in the past. The use of the ocean is particularly key as it suggests that the black people have properties as an ocean does: the awesome destructive power, the violence in which all is conducted as a unit, the hidden dangers below the surface. Rossetti slips into the use of nature in “Cousin Kate”, particularly birds.

She shows that the dove is a desirable thing to be, “good and pure”, and how she was robbed of that when the lord discarded her and made her an “unclean thing”. It carries on with the characteristics of animals, the narrator always an animal of lower status than Kate. While the narrator “sit[s] and howl[s] in dust” as would a disgraced farm dog, Kate “sit[s] in gold and sing[s]:”, showing that she is now a songbird, beautiful, desirable and pure. This could also mean, however, that the lord has also trapped her though. By placing her “in gold” which are presumably clothes but, with following the metaphor, could also be a cage, he has trapped his prize by binding her with a wedding ring.

The narrator realises this and this could possibly be the reason why, though she is still so bitter toward both of them, the lord did not marry her: she had foreseen the trap and had fled to prove she “had the stronger wing”, the willpower to leave behind riches for freedom, choosing to be oppressed openly by the world rather than in lonely secrecy by her would-be husband, being able to find a sanctuary within herself where she was still free. Dialect Both poems differ in the language and dialect used.

While Rossetti uses language contemporary for the poetic writing style of the time (using poetic words, ones not found in everyday conversations), Angelou uses language she is more likely to use regularly. Rossetti’s poem is written articulately in Queen’s English with no abbreviations as was proper at the time and would help her to be taken more seriously especially as it was unusual for a woman of the time to try to provoke the population to question their mindsets.

The words “O” and “cousin” are both a sign of the time period this was written in as though “cousin” could mean a blood relation, it could also mean a close friend. Angelou writes with a more laidback approach, missing off the ends of words, using language her fellows would use every day (“Diggin'”, “‘Cause”). This also stops her from alienating herself from the people she is trying to help as they would feel comfortable with her speaking like this. Conclusion Both poems approach their cause in very different ways. Rossetti is more conservative, preferring to subtly question the mindset of Victorian England with the hope that the reader will arise with the final question: is this really right?

Angelou is much more aggressive with her approach, especially compared to Rossetti’s passive approach, using a disguise, a sort of allegory to cloak the morals and meaning so that the reader would not be put off at first as was the custom in modest England and would learn something in the process of being a little open minded. Angelou is literally loud and proud, using rhetorical questions to provoke the reader into looking deep down and examining their beliefs and whether or not they coincide with their morals, shaming them into changing themselves.

Angelou goes on about how the white population should be ashamed of their actions and how it is so wrong that we have not evolved past that mindset and yet she seems to beat the reader with a stick and then step upon them, subtly threatening that the African Americans also had the power to do the same.

Angelou is more effective in her approach to combating oppression due to her spirit, assuredness and almost rude aggressiveness but many people will argue that Rossetti is more appealing as it leaves the reader thinking productively rather than punishing themselves for letting their thoughts and opinions go untamed and this is because Angelou, whether subconsciously or not, has almost oppressed the reader into thinking in her own mindset in which she believes is correct. Many, including myself, that equality is best but when the idea is drilled into your head as it has done in “Still I Rise”, it starts to become the very thing it was fighting, threatening that, almost with a military-like force, the white population will ‘get a taste of their own medicine’.

Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59