What is Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise" about? Why is it important?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Angelou's poem is about a person's internal strength to confront their oppressors and not surrender to them.  It is important because it speaks to the resilient spirit that is in all of us.

The poem is focused on how one responds to injustice.  Its opening features the speaker, presumably Angelou, addressing those who seek to control her.  The repetition of "Still I rise" is a reminder that her will is stronger than the control exerted upon her.  The poem goes through different situations where oppression exists.  In each setting, the speaker makes it clear that her will is not going to be overcome.  She will not be denied.  The ending features a calling out to ancestors who experienced their own form of subjugation.  As the speaker embraces "the dream and hope of the slave," it is clear that she will not only endure what is being placed on her, but will triumph over it.  

The poem's message about struggle and vanquishing forces of oppression through personal strength is important to everyone.  The poem does not minimize the trials that people endure.  Rather, it brings attention to them.  The poem suggests that individuals can develop the fortitude to challenge their oppressors.  It is important because all of us can wither as a result of external pressure.  This pressure can be personal, political, and social.  It might be overwhelming to experience this. However, Angelou's poem insists that we are able to "rise."  We can find strength in this message.  In the face of overwhelming odds and painful conditions, we can say, "Still I rise."

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