Lucille Clifton

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Does the line "I stand up" in the poem "Miss Rosie" indicate that the speaker thinks that she is better than Miss Rosie?

I don't believe that the speaker is standing up in superiority over Miss Rosie. I think it may be a bit of both interpretations. Miss Rosie

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I don't think Clifton intended this poem to mean that the speaker stands up in superiority over Miss Rosie. But, I will say that if you don't know Clifton's intent, the poem is totally vague on this point. After a slew of insults, the speaker says "I stand up" and it really seems like she's saying "I am better than you; or this will never happen to me." It really sounds downright self-righteous on the speaker's part. Had the poem ended with "why don't you stand up" or "will you stand up."

"I stand up" - "through your destruction." The use of the word "through" just baffles me. Through - as if the speaker is just plowing through it; getting past it as you would through some obstacle. In this respect, I agree that it does sound like the speaker is being high and mighty here. And since I believe in the interpretation of the reader just as important as the inent of the author, this is a valid interpretation.

But, you will probably read (in criticism) that the fact that the speaker acknowledges Miss Rosie's past recognizes her as a human being and not just a wet bag; as most people have become so used to homeless people that they ignore them as they would trash in the street. In this interpretation, when the speaker stands up, she is acknowledging Miss Rosie as a peasant would stand up when a queen walks by. So, rather than standing up to look down, the speaker stands up in deference or as in a standing ovation. Considering Lucille's frequent themes of African-American heritage and feminism, this is certainly the intended interpretation. In this case, she stands up “through” the destruction, meaning she symbolically shares it, goes through it with Miss Rosie. Standing up is in support, sympathy and maybe even reverence; not condescending.


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Critics have long noted the "big ideas" in Lucille Clifton's simple, lyrical verse.  As is typical of her poetry, "miss rosie" is a short, simple poem that presents a portrait of an old African-American woman in images that evoke the broken state of an old black woman.  Formerly a beautiful woman called "the Georgia Rose," Miss Rosie now is a "wet brown bag of a woman," a woman wasted by age who sits and waits for her "mind like next week's grocery." 

Yet, as the speaker watches the remnants of what was once a strikingly beautiful woman, she tells the old woman who is "wrapped up like garbage, 

I stand up

through your destruction. 

Realizing that the aged woman has experienced much harship throughout her life, the speaker gains strength and determination from witnessing her defeat and is inspired to carry on for Miss Rosie:  "I stand up." That is, she figuratively stands in respect as Miss Rosie passes, honoring the memory of a once beautiful woman who has endured.

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