How does Maya Angelou represent the quality of resilience in her poem ''Still I Rise''?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Resilience is the quality of withstanding hardship and bouncing back. 

In “Still I Rise,” Angelou’s speaker compares herself to various elements of nature with similes.  A simile is "a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words "like" or "as"" (enotes reference, simile)

These similes highlight her connection to nature and the deep-rooted strength she has.  The speaker is a black woman who gains strength from her people’s own adversity.

The speaker begins by comparing herself to the resiliency of dust.

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I'll rise. (lines 3-4)

The simile of dust is apt because although it is small and insignificant, it can actually be quite difficult to overcome.  When you trod in dirt, you get dust.  The speaker is saying that she is not so easy to get rid of either.

In the third stanza, the speaker compares herself to the moons and suns.  This is another comparison with nature.  The moons and suns, and the tides, are predictable.  The speaker is pointing out the predictability of her spirit, that no matter what happens nothing to bring her down.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides, (lines 9-10)

In the last stanza, the speaker makes overt references to slavery.

Out of the huts of history's shame

I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise (lines 29-32)

By this point, the poem has risen to a crescendo.  This is evidenced by the changing in pattern now that we no longer have 4 line stanzas and with the repetition of “I rise” (lines 29, 32, 36, 38, 41-43).  The repetition serves to reinforce the idea that the speaker never gives up, and is strengthened rather than weakened by the pain of the past.

Read the full poem here:

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