Analyze how literary devices from "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou contribute to the depth of the poem.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Simile:  Angelou incorporates similes like "but still, like dust, I'll rise" throughout the poem.  This particular simile also creates imagery, helping the reader to picture the rising cloud of dust in his or her mind.  Angelou's use of simile deepens the meaning of the poem by giving the reader a tangible connection, like dust, to connect with the deeper themes of the poem.

Metaphor:  Angelou uses metaphor as the speaker compares herself to a "black ocean, leaping and wide;" this metaphor reinforces the vast power felt by the speaker of the poem, that she feels unrestrained like the ocean, capable of overcoming her difficulties.

Imagery: Angelou employs strong imagery throughout the poem as she creates a contrast between past and present:

"Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries." (13-16)

In this stanza, Angelou appeals to the readers' sensory perception, particularly of sight, by creating a silhouette of defeat; the slumped posture and downcast eyes suggest failure and disappointment.  Moreover, the "soulful cries" deepen this image by adding an auditory layer, so the reader not only sees what defeat must feel like, but can hear it as well.

Personification:  "Past rooted in pain" gives human qualities, in this case emotion, to a non-human object or idea "the past." By doing so, Angelou again contrasts the difficult past with its hardships, restrictions, and disappointments to the bright promise of the future.  Angelou also uses alliteration here, "Past rooted in pain" and in "huts of history," which adds to the cadence of the poem.

All of these literary devices together contribute to the depth of the poem by demonstrating the extent of the speaker's power to overcome obstacles and still rise.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Angelou uses a number of similes and metaphors that convey the idea of rising. For example, she compares herself to dust that rises and to other natural phenomena, namely, the moon, the sun, and the tides. This type of figurative language conveys the certainty with which she will rise and conveys her irrepressible nature. Later, she also uses similes and metaphors to describe the way in which people will try to keep her down, including shooting with one's eyes and killing with one's words. However, she states that even these weapons will not repress her.

At the end of the poem, she uses a number of metaphors to refer to the depth of African American suffering throughout history. For example, she speaks of "the huts of history's shame" to refer to slavery. After presenting these metaphors, she refers to leaving behind "the nights of terror and fear" to enter "a daybreak that's wonderfully clear." This metaphor clearly expresses the depth from which she will rise and the pride that she feels in doing so. Alluding to African American history deepens the effect of the poem.

The poet also uses a series of questions to convey the attitude of those who would like to see her repressed. For example, she asks, "Did you want to see me broken?" She asks a series of questions that shows that she understands the hateful nature of her oppressor and that even this type of hatefulness cannot affect her. 

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this poem, Angelou uses a number of literary devices to emphasize her key themes.

First, she uses imagery to demonstrate how people used to treat her. In the first stanza, for example, she talks about how she has been "trod in the dirt." Moreover, in stanza four, she uses the images of her "bowed head" and "lowered eyes" to demonstrate the effect of such negative treatment. The reader, thus, has a very clear impression of how hurt she was.

Angelou then uses metaphors to describe how she was able to overcome this treatment and find her inner strength.  She compares herself to a "black ocean," for instance, to portray her emotional and spiritual growth. In addition, she likens herself to the "dream" and "hope" of a slave.

Finally, the repetition of the phrase, "I rise," highlights the idea that she continues to overcome all of this adversity.

By doing this, Angelou reinforces her key message: despite all the negative treatment she has received, she was able to find inner strength, a strength that enabled her to rise above and be proud and happy.