Last Updated on September 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.
These two lines from stanza one capture the defiant tone of the poem. The speaker here refuses to be bowed by the oppressive weight of racism and insists that, "like dust," she will always rise. The simile here, whereby the speaker compares herself to dust, might at first seem strange, given that dust generally connotes dirt and insignificance. However, the simile here is intended to be empowering. The speaker is saying that even the worst that can be done to her will not be enough to keep her down. The direct address in this quotation—and throughout the poem—emphasizes the boldness and the defiance of the speaker's message. She speaks directly to her oppressors and refuses to be afraid of them.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Throughout the poem, the speaker repeatedly addresses the "you" in the poem with rhetorical questions, such as those in the above quotation. The implied responses to these questions are always that the speaker will not be "broken" and will not "bow" her eyes or "lower" her head. She will not break, she will walk with her head held high, and she will meet her oppressors head-on and look them in the eye. These repeated rhetorical questions compound the poem's defiant tone.
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
In this quotation, the speaker metaphorically refers to herself as "a black ocean." This metaphor implies that the speaker is elemental and strong, and also that the color of her skin is a strength and not, as racist people would have her believe, a weakness. The use of the verbs "leaping," "welling," and "swelling" also conveys the impression that the speaker is full of energy; furthermore,...
(The entire section contains 471 words.)
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