Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise,” from the similarly titles collection And Still I Rise, is brimming with images of resilience. Every stanza is an example of the level of resilience she possesses, both as a person of color and as a woman. The poem "Still I Rise," addresses her oppressors directly and inspires readers to focus on her resilience and not on the gaze of the oppressor. She writes:
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
In this stanza, she is proudly owning her sexuality as a woman and takes pride in her body. The implicit assumption she pushes against is that she should be ashamed of her body and the color of her skin. However, she actively rejects the narrative that was written for her and creates her own set of rules.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Angelou acknowledges the ancestral trauma she has inherited but responds to the bleak past with a refrain of "I rise." She refuses to be marginalized and rises above the prejudice, pain, and adversity she has faced. She is "leaving behind nights of terror and fear" to forge a new path for herself—and perhaps for others, too.
The theme of resilience is found in many other poems throughout the collection And Still I Rise, notably in "The Lesson." The poem opens with:
I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
of a woman repeatedly dying coupled with the innocence and hope of children paints a vivid metaphor
for healing and resilience. She uses "veins" to evoke the suffering of her ancestors and acknowledges that the same blood flows inside of her. But the "opening" is like the "fists of sleeping children," which represents a new hope for the future and a desire to fight for justice. She has a "memory of old tombs" but exclaims "Rotting flesh and worms do / Not convince me against the challenge." She is determined to rise above the horrific treatment her ancestors faced as slaves and the discrimination she has faced as a black woman. Though the odds are perhaps against her, she refuses to forfeit. She closes the poem with "I keep dying, because I love to live." This turn of phrase further illustrates her resilience, as she willingly endures pain and suffering to achieve the sweetness of freedom.
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