What is the tone of Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The tone of Maya Angelou’s poem "Still I Rise", found in the anthology And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems published in 1978, can be described in various ways: it is at once defiant, thoughtful, hopeful, sad, and triumphant. Like much of Angelou’s work, it references...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

The tone of Maya Angelou’s poem "Still I Rise", found in the anthology And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems published in 1978, can be described in various ways: it is at once defiant, thoughtful, hopeful, sad, and triumphant. Like much of Angelou’s work, it references the lived experience of African Americans, their resistance and resilience, and the poem’s tone encapsulates the varied emotions combined in their history and present.

It is both political and personal in nature, and directly comments on the experience of being an African American woman. We get the sense of an empowered, playful woman, full of “sassiness” and “sexiness.” But there is anger and despair too. Rather than downplaying the difficulties, the poet’s voice describes how she rises from a place of oppression and violence, a place of “terror and fear”, of “shame”, from “a past that’s rooted in pain.”

Thus strength, honesty, renewal, resistance, resilience, and empowerment are all suitable words to bear in mind when thinking about the tone. Through challenging the reader—by addressing them directly in the very first line—the narrator refuses to be downtrodden or disempowered and resists being broken with “bowed head and lowered eyes.” Instead, imagery of freedom and confidence abounds, including references to the ocean, dancing, rising air, dreams, and hope.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

     The tone of the poem may best be summed up as empowered.  Angelou directs the poem toward people who challenge, denigrate or look down upon her. Yet throughout the challenges she triumphs by rising up time and time again. It is the essence of the phrase, "It's not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up that counts". 

     Angelou also implies that the people laughing at her or looking down upon her are angered by her attitude. This ties in with the overall empowerment theme of rising up. She challenges the notions of "sexiness" and "haughtiness" which African Americans were denied. She continually points out that although society may challenge her heritage she will rise above the disdain to be her own person. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team