How does the structure of Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise" affect the meaning?
Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise,” published in 1978, expresses the empowering message to rise above hate and pain.
The poem has many repeated structures. For example, the poem begins with addressing a “You” who commits acts of hate against the narrator. This “you” is never specifically defined and can be interpreted as an individual or a collective group. There is a repeated list of actions this “you” may commit against the speaker—tell lies about her, step on her, look at her with contempt, even “kill me with your hatefulness.” The poem twice uses the word “history,” showing the struggle to rise above hate is not just personal but collective, reflecting Angelou’s African American heritage.
The poem also uses a structure of repeated questions directed against “you” who the speaker defies with her boldness. Rather than shrinking back in the face of hate, she flaunts her “sassiness,” “haughtiness,” and “sexiness.” Thus, along with the racial themes of the poem, these moments reveal feminist ideas too. The female speaker is proud to “dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs.”
The poem’s repeated refrain, “I rise,” underpins the structure of the poem. Including the title, the phrase is repeated eleven times. This repetition emphasizes the speaker’s audacious determination, not to be pushed down, but to rise up against hate, pain, lies, and fear.
To especially notice the sound effects created by the structure of the poem, hear Angelou's reading of the poem here: