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What symbols are present in Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise"?

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In "Still I Rise," Maya Angelou uses gold mines and oil wells as symbols of wealth and confidence. She also uses natural imagery, including the sun, the moon, the tides, and the air, to symbolize the inevitability of her continued rise beyond the reach of oppression.

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There are multiple symbols in this poem which contribute to its central meaning. The speaker describes herself as "dust," which she contrasts to the "dirt" into which her detractors would like to crush and bury her name and accomplishments. While dust and dirt may be superficially the same, the distinction is that dust will "rise," just as the speaker intends to do.

There are also various symbols of wealth and industry in the poem, as the speaker describes her vast resources of inner strength, beauty, and power. She describes her walk as being like that of someone who has "oil wells" in her living room. Later, she suggests that there are "gold mines" in her backyard: both of these things symbolize natural resources which can be plundered to make the owner incredibly wealthy.

It is important that both gold and oil are naturally occurring, as this connects to other symbols in the poem which emphasize the natural strength and power of the speaker. She rises like "air" and swells like a "black ocean." The tidal nature of the ocean is like the nature of the speaker's strength. It is notable, too, that the ocean is black, as the speaker is describing the particular plight of Black women, who have been treated so cruelly by history and by society. The speaker notes that, like diamonds, gold, and oil, the strength and power of Black women has been there all along, but now she is able to tap into those resources and "rise" like air.

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The speaker uses symbols of wealth to describe herself: gold, oil, and diamonds. These are all precious items that come from the earth. In all three cases, they are extracted from within the earth: they rise up out of the dirt. This symbolizes the idea that though once downtrodden, the female Black speaker now rises from the earth.

Beneath what has been considered dirt can lie a diamond in the rough or the gleam of gold. This symbolizes the worth that the speaker now acknowledges in herself, as she has found her inner treasure. Like a diamond, she has been forged by pressure and pain; like oil or a "black ocean," she swells upward.

Rising is another important symbol. The Black woman has been buried, her value unsuspected, but now she is rising, as if being resurrected from a grave. There is a strong symbolic resonance here with Christ's triumphal rising or ascension to heaven in the Christian story depicting his suffering, torture, and death. Three is also an important biblical symbol, and the speaker repeats the words "I rise" three times at the end of the poem, as if to emphasize her connection with the Christian trinity.

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The speaker in "Still I Rise" uses various symbols of wealth to indicate the value of her body. First, she explains that despite attempts to tear her down with "lies"; she walks like she owns "oil wells." Oil is a natural resource which modern society values; property containing an oil reserve is quite valuable. Later, she explains that an unnamed listener wants to see her "broken," yet she laughs like she owns "gold mines." Again, the speaker points to an incredibly valuable natural resource to indicate her own sense of self-worth. Finally, she acknowledges that the listener wants to "kill" her "with ... hatefulness," yet she dances like she has "diamonds" between her thighs. Once again, she points to a precious and prized natural resource to explain her own feelings of worth.

It is important to note that as references to her body become more intimate, from her walk to her laugh to her thighs, the value of the symbol, as determined by the society who uses these resources, also increases. This indicates the precious value of the speaker's body, which is particularly important as the poem references a Black body; the speaker is the "dream and the hope of the slave."

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In the first stanza of "Still I Rise," Maya Angelou uses the dirt on the ground to symbolize the downtrodden and unvalued members of society, only to counter this with the symbol of dust, which rises from the ground when trodden underfoot. The rest of the poem is filled with contrasting symbols of prosperity and oppression.

The pumping oil wells to which the speaker refers in the next stanza are a symbol of wealth and self sufficiency, and the same is true of the gold mines in her backyard in stanza five. The diamonds between her thighs at the end of the seventh stanza add sexual confidence to this combination. The moon, the sun, and the tides in the third stanza act as symbols of the certainty and inexorability of her rise, comparing it to a law of nature. Later, in stanza six, the same symbolism is applied to air.

There are also symbols of the oppression that the speaker has surmounted and continues to overcome. Bowed shoulders are described as falling like teardrops, symbolizing misery and defeat. The huts in which her people used to live symbolize "history's shame." At length, she becomes the free, independent person that her ancestors dreamed of being, symbolized by a "black ocean," an unstoppable and uncontrollable natural force.

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What literary devices does Maya Angelou use in "Still I Rise"?

Maya Angelous's "Still I Rise" uses a number of literary devices to build an assertive, defiant, and triumphant tone in her poem.

The speaker uses apostrophe, which is a direct address to an absent person, object, or concept. In this case, the speaker talks to a "you," which is the white culture that has tried to keep Black people down. This direct address helps energize the speaker and make her voice more vehement.

Anaphora, or the device of repeating the same words at the beginning of consecutive lines of verse, adds a sense of religious litany to the poem: for example, in stanza six, the speaker repeats "You may" at the beginning of three of the four lines.

The speaker also employs repetition, which amplifies and emphasizes certain points. For example, she repeats the words "I rise" several times throughout the poem. The poem then lifts to a crescendo at the end with the repetition of "I rise" three times.

A rhyme scheme in which Angelou uses rhyming words at the end of the second and fourth lines of each stanza adds a sense of structure to the poem.

The speaker also uses a simile when she writes:

I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
She uses a metaphor when she compares herself to an ocean:
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide

The poem makes use imagery, which is description using any of the five senses. For example, we can see in our mind's eyes the "bowed head and lowered eyes" that the speaker rejects.

Angelou creates a sense of rhythm with alliteration, which means placing words that begin with the same consonant in close proximity. For example, the d sound is alliterative in "I dance like I've got diamonds" and the h sound in "the huts of history’s shame."

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What are all the poetic devices in "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou?

The educators below have given great help in locating many literary devices. I would like to add that when analyzing the poetic choices an author has made in a poem, it's important to consider why those choices were made. Most teachers and instructors want to know that you can not only produce a list of those devices but also include a purpose for them or an explanation about how they influence the meaning of the poem. Thus, Angelou uses literary devices such as apostrophe, anaphora, and feminine endings to convey a powerful and unwavering tone.

Angelou admits that she faces adversity from an unnamed "you." Speaking directly to this person who does not respond is called apostrophe. And that fits within the statement above; it is not important to hear from this other voice because the focus is on the power and strength of the speaker.

Anaphora is the repetition of words in successive lines of poetry. Consider these lines:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness (emphasis added)

This quick repetition in the beginnings of three successive lines puts the focus on various verbs that the speaker has endured as a result of this unknown "you": shoot, cut, and kill. Although being used metaphorically, those are strong and violent choices that suggest that the speaker has endured more than casual insults. Juxtaposing that idea with the one that follows further shows the strength of the speaker: "But still, like air, I’ll rise." That juxtaposition following anaphora conveys an endless perseverance through the injustices of hatred, the metaphor showing that she cannot be held down.

It's also important to note that in several of Angelou's lines, she uses a feminine ending. Typically when lines are divided into meter, they have an exact, even number of syllables. Thus, when you divide the line into metrical feet, you end up with 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. pairs of syllables. Take a look at Angelou's first line, however:

You may l write me l down in l histor l y

I have added the l to show how the feet are divided in this line. You'll notice that there are four feet (of 2 syllables each), and then there is this leftover syllable at the end—the y on history. That leftover syllable is a feminine ending, and it's important in this poem because we can assume that the speaker is actually Angelou speaking as herself. Thus, this isn't about the general strength of a person who "[brings] the gifts that my ancestors gave." This is a strong, African American woman, and those feminine endings are thus significant in analyzing the speaker's meaning.

Angelou's poem uses various examples of strong poetic devices to deliver a message about the indomitable spirit of an African American woman who draws strength from her ancestors in order to overcome adversity in her own life.

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What are all the poetic devices in "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou?

"Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou consists of six quatrains followed by a 15-line stanza. The most obvious poetic device it uses is repetition, specifically of the words "I rise."

The quatrains are rhymed ABCB, although some of the rhymes are slightly irregular. "Welling and swelling" is an internal rhyme.

The poem uses comparisons, both in the form of simile and metaphor. Similes are direct comparisons, using words such as "like" and "as". An example of a simile is "I dance like I've got diamonds" or "Shoulders falling down like teardrops". Metaphors use implicit comparison. First, the use of the word "rise" is metaphorical, as its literal sense is physical, upward motion. Another example of a metaphor is the line "You may cut me with your eyes". Eyes cannot physically cut anything, being  soft and squishy; this refers to emotional pain caused by someone's glance or expression which is being compared to the physical pain of a cut.

The poem also uses rhetorical questions such as: "Did you want to see me broken?".

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What are all the poetic devices in "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou has combined several poetic devices in the Poem 'Still I Rise' to paint a vivid picture of endurance, hope and strength. The devices include:

Simile - In verse three, the use of the word like in comparing her rising to that of the sun and moon

Metaphor-in verse nine, she says that she is the black ocean

Repetition- The use of the phrase, "Still I'll rise" throughout the poem to emphasize that no matter the intensity of the adversities faced, her hope and strength will keep her alive.

Rhyme- Similar sounding words like tides and rise, gloom and room, hard and yard.

Rhetorical question-Maya uses a number of rhetoric questions to make her point that her oppressor's efforts to demean her are all futile. She asks, "Why are you beset with gloom?" "Did you want to see me broken?" "Does my haughtiness offend you?"

Imagery- The sentence "I've got oil wells pumping in my living room" paints a picture of the unending confidence and hope the persona has.

Hyperbole- This device has been used to emphasize the brutality inflicted upon the persona. In verse seven, the poet writes, " You cut me with your eyes" and "You kill me with your hatefulness".

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What are all the poetic devices in "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou?

The poem, “Still I Rise”, by Maya Angelou, contains a number of poetical devices, including repetition, simile, metaphor, and personification. In addition, the author skillfully employs the use of rhetorical questions to create vivid images of strength and determination.

The consistent rhyme scheme of the poem (lies/rise, gloom/room, hard/yard) offers rhythmic pacing and uniformity. In addition, the figurative language supports the theme of a speaker who is both powerful and secure:  

“Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard”

The use of metaphor (“I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide…) strengthens that stance and the use of personification (“You may cut me with your eyes.”) offers vivid imagery of one who is undefeatable, invincible.

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What kind of figurative language does Maya Angelou use in her poem "Still I Rise"?

The figurative language in Angelou's poem all connects to its central theme: that, no matter what is done to the speaker and to her people, her power is such that "still, like dust, I'll rise." This simile suggests that the speaker is lighter than air, floating upward, above the "lies" of her oppressors.

The poem is replete with similes. The speaker compares herself to "moons" and "suns" and describes herself as having "the certainty of tides," all images which suggest constancy and a capacity to stay the course and outlast naysayers. The speaker also uses figurative language to suggest that she behaves as if she is wealthier than she is, knowing that there is an internal, natural wealth inside her. She behaves "like I've got gold mines" and "like I've got oil wells," indicating that the speaker carries herself with the confidence of someone who has valuable natural resources, and knows it. One of the poem's most striking images also builds on this point: the speaker says she dances "like I've got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs." The image is vivid and the language rather provocative with its sexual implications: the speaker's confidence is conveyed boldly.

Towards the end of the poem, the speaker uses a metaphor: "I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide." Here, she is speaking not only of herself, but of her people, who "bear in the tide" despite centuries of oppression. The whole of the poem has been building towards this point, founded as it is on the repeated metaphor "I rise," as noted in the title. The speaker is not literally rising above the earth, but metaphorically and figuratively, her confidence and her internal value mean that she will continue to rise above all her detractors.

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What kind of figurative language does Maya Angelou use in her poem "Still I Rise"?

Throughout the poem, Angelou uses all kinds of figurative devices: simile and metaphor, hyperbole, and plenty of figures of sound (rhyme, alliteration, and repetition). Let's take a close look at each.


This is a comparison using "like," "as," "as if," "as though," "resembles," etc., and Angelou uses a lot of them throughout the poem.

A favorite of readers seems to be this gem:

"That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?"

What a gutsy simile! 


Like a simile but without a word such as "like," this is a comparison that directly states that one thing is another. The speaker of the poem says, for instance:

"I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide"

The metaphor emphasizes the speaker's incredible depth and power.


This is an exaggeration for effect: presenting something as much more intense than it really is. This stanza has three hyperbolic statements:

"You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise."


Read this poem aloud; you'll be glad you did. You can hear the powerful, clear-as-a-bell rhyme scheme with single-syllable words. "Lies," "rise." "Gloom," "room." And so on until the end: "Fear," "clear." "Gave," "slave." These rhymes lend music and (even more) personality to the speaker and her message of confidence and self-love.

Alliteration, both consonance and assonance:

Alliteration in general is the repetition of sounds close together. Consonance, like it sounds, is a repetition of consonants, while assonance is a repetition of vowel sounds. (Both are instances of alliteration.)

Check out some consonance here:

"Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?"

And some assonance:

"Does my sexiness upset you?"


This is generally a method for driving home the point, building up the point to a climax, or simply making the point catchy and familiar enough to keep it in readers' minds.

In this poem, Angelou writes "I rise" ten times, plus it's in the title!

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What literary devices are used in "Still I Rise"?

Maya Angelou uses a number of literary devices in "Still I Rise." These include apostrophe, which occurs when the poem's speaker directly addresses an absent person or thing. Throughout the poem, the speaker creates tension and energy by directly speaking to an imagined white racist, using the pronoun "you." For example, the poem opens with,

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies ...

Rhetorical questions, questions with only one answer, accompany the apostrophe, underlining the gap between racist desires and the reality of the speaker's experience. An example is

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Of course, the poem implies, haughtiness in a Black woman offends racist sensibilities, but the speaker will nevertheless be who she is without fear or shame.

Anaphora is a literary device in which the same words are repeated at the beginning of consecutive lines, creating a sense of rhythm and litany. The "you may" at the beginning of lines in stanza 5 is an example of this.

Imagery is description using any of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell: "soulful cries" is one example, as we can hear these cries in our imagination.

Angelou also employs metaphor, comparison not using the words like or as, such as in the line

I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide.

She uses metaphor again in likening the new day of Black female liberation that was coming to fruition in the 1970s to

a daybreak that's wondrously clear.

Angelou employs similes, comparisons that use the words like or as, frequently as well, such as in the line

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

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In the poem "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou, what poetic device, besides metaphors, is significant?

In addition to the descriptive similes and metaphors Angelou uses, she also incorporates the use of repetition, questioning, assonance, and alliteration to emphasize the ideas and themes of the poem.

  1.   Angelou repeats the phrase, “I rise” 10 times in the poem.  The technique of repeating words or phrases puts emphasis on the phrase and, in this case, allows the poem to build towards its conclusion.  It’s almost as if the poem is “rising” in its message as it is being read from the beginning to the end.  The poem builds and builds to a climax where the final three “I rise” statements show that Angelou has undeniably risen above the lies, the history of her people, and the stereotypes that once defined her.
  2.   The use of questions in the poem also engages the reader, prompting them to think about and draw conclusions on how they feel about what Angelou is suggesting. Her questions are “in your face” type of questions that challenge her readers to argue against her ideas and confront her main premise that she is no longer going to be kept down. She challenges the reader to deal with her “sassiness” instead of the broken spirit she once had.
  3.  Angelou also uses alliteration and assonance throughout the poem to give certain words emphasis as well as to create a pattern or rhythm in the poem. Alliteration is the repetition of like consonant sounds; assonance is the repetition of like vowel sounds. Some examples are:

"With your bitter, twisted lies," (assonance—I sound)

"Just like hopes springing high," (alliteration—H sound)

"That I dance like I've got diamonds" (alliteration—D sound)

"Out of the huts of history's shame" (alliteration—H sound)

"Up from a past that's rooted in pain" (alliteration—P sound)

All of the poetic devices Angelou uses in this poem create not only imagery but also creatively present the theme of overcoming obstacles and hardships and “rising” and finding one’s self-worth.

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What are all the literary devices in "Still I Rise"?

Maya Angelou primarily uses repetition and comparison to effectively communicate her ideas in "Still I Rise."

Angelou repeats the phrase "I rise" ten times throughout the poem. Her emphasis on this phrase, which includes placing it as the only two words on a line seven of the ten times, makes clear to the reader her theme. Also, it is worth noting that she puts most of the "I rise" lines at the end of the poem. Those seven instances where the phrase is alone are in the last two stanzas, suggesting that the speaker's confidence grows even as the poem is being written.

Additionally, Maya Angelou's use of similes in "Still I Rise," of which there are nine total, also imparts a sense of self-assurance to the poem. For example, she claims, "You may trod me in the very dirt / But still, like dust, I’ll rise" (3–4). The comparison in this simile demonstrates a sense of power from humble beginnings. Though she is starting from a place of denigration, she will use her lowered position to overcome all the more.

Later on in the poem, when asking the audience if her sexiness is upsetting, Angelou asserts, "I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs" (27–28). This simile, which is quite different from the previous example, chooses an expensive comparison rather than a humble one. The choice of "diamonds" displays strong confidence in her own sexual appeal as a woman, thereby adding to her overall power as a human being.

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What are some of the poetic techniques used in "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou and important points about the poem?

"Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou is the title poem of a collection she published in 1978. It addresses the issues of racial and gender oppression, seeking to subvert them through a refusal to yield to the oppressor's attempts to define the subaltern.

The poem's first person narrator is an African-American woman who speaks directly to an audience addressed only as 'you". Although we are not informed as to whether this you is singular or collective or refers to the reader or all members of the privileged classes, races, and genders who oppress the narrator, the attitude of the narrator to the addressee is one of defiance. The poem begins with the assertion:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise ...

In terms of poetic form, the first seven stanzas are quatrains with somewhat irregular rhythmic patterns, mainly rhymed ABCB. These quatrains recite the ways in which the narrator with act out her defiance of the white patriarchy by asserting her pride and her ownership of her own body. The final two stanza of the poem seem to reject the traditional quatrain form along with the culture that created it.

The most distinctive element of the poem is the repetition of the words "I rise", indicative of the way the narrator will not be held down by the forces of gender, economic, or ethnic oppression. 

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