Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise" was written in 1978. In it, the speaker's use of diction and tone create a work which calls readers to confront our country's current and past racism. The speaker's assertiveness presents a brave affront to those who have persecuted her, and people like her.
Following are two examples in which the tone, or attitude, Maya Angelou uses in the poem develop the ideas aforementioned.
1. In the first stanza, the speaker presents a challenge to the reader. The speaker says that no matter what lies are told about her, or what persecution she faces, she will still rise. She will not be kept down by people's opinions or actions.
"You may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may tread me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I'll rise."
2. In the second stanza, the speaker in the poem offers a sarcastic question, asking if the way in which she carries herself upsets the reader. The speaker compares her carriage to someone who knows they own a vast treasure.
"Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom?
Why are you beset with gloom? 'Cause I walk like I've got oil wellsPumping in my living room."
Maya Angelou's use of different types of diction in this poem help create the effect of the poem, in which the reader is challenged by the speaker, and also cheering the speaker on. Here are five examples of diction in this poem:
1. Angelou uses colloquial diction in several stanzas of the poem. Stanza five contains several colloquialisms:
"Does my haughtiness offend you? Don't you take it awful hard'Cause I laugh like I've got gold minesDiggin' in my own back yard."
the use of the words "awful hard", the shortened version of because, and the form of "diggin'" all help the reader form a connection with the speaker in the poem. It gives the poem a sense of realness that helps us to identify with, and root for the speaker of the poem. It takes the tone from arrogant to self-assured.
2. In several other stanzas, Angelou switches to a more formal type of diction. Consider the third stanza of the poem:
"Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I'll rise."
Gone are the colloquialisms in this stanza. Her use of celestial bodies and natural forces that cannot be contained suggest a strength of purpose. It lets the reader know that the speaker is serious about her perseverance through difficulty.
3. In the opening stanza, Angelou chose words with negative connotations to express the pervasive nature of the persecution she was describing. Her use of the words "bitter" and twisted" when describing the lies recorded in history suggest a perverseness and anger that is deep seeded.
4. Angelou's use of the word "sassiness" in the second stanza carries an almost playful connotation. Sassy is often a quality that is admired in others. It is not usually considered a character flaw. It is a term used to describe someone who has spunk and is self-possessed.
5. In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker compares herself to an ocean that wells up and swells. It is a metaphor for strength. Her declaration that she will rise up out of a painful past, out of the indignities her ancestors suffered, and that she will rise above it all is an anthem for perseverance and self-confidence. Her repetition of the words I rise at the end become a mantra for her determination.
"Out of the huts of history's shameI riseUp from a past that's rooted in painI riseI'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.Leaving behind nights of terror and fearI riseInto a daybreak that's wondrously clearI riseBringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,I am the dream and the hope of the slave.I riseI riseI rise."