“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou
Many might say that’s an extremely memorable quote by Mrs. Angelou. Although it’s definitely not the only one, some might say it speaks to them in ways they cannot describe. Maya Angelou was roughly one of the very best poets of her generation. Her poems have touched the hearts of many, and continue to leave a mark on this world. Maya was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou was the baby, although she only had one other sibling. She was born, in a way, as a completely different person. Her original name was Marguerite Johnson. Her parents’ names are Bailey and Vivian Baxter, and her only and older brother’s name is Bailey Jr. Their parents later divorced (Benbow 31).
After their parents divorced, Maya and Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps Arkansas. When Maya was 7 or 8, her mother’s boyfriend sexually abused and raped her while she had come back to visit her mother in St. Louis because it had been too long for them to have been apart. Maya lived with her grandmother until she graduated from Lafayette County Training School in 1940, with honors. She then went to live with her mother in San Francisco. She graduated from Mission High School when she was 16, and in the same year, gave birth to a baby boy. She named him Guy, and he was just the result of and unprotected fling with a neighbor’s son. Angelou, even as a teen mom, found a way to study dance as well. Although she her relationship with that boy didn’t go much further, she did end up marrying. She married Paul du Feu in 1973, also in San Francisco (Rowe 31).
Maya joined what was called the Theatre of Being in Hollywood in the year of 1966. By 1970, she was a lecturer at Yale University, and a writer-in-residence at the University of Kansas. In this year also, she published first autobiographical piece, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. This was a novel of verification and hope. It focused on the rape of her childhood, and the progress she showed growing from an awkward child to an independent teenage mom. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ended up being on the New York Times list of best sellers for a little over two years (Rowe 31).
Angelou wrote a second autobiographical piece in 1974; Gather Together in My name. This was a basically the continued story of the first novel she wrote. Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas was her third novel. This one was published only two years after her second book. The third manuscript was written not about that awkward growing up stage, but it was more about her rise to fame as a performer (Rowe 32).
In 1978 Maya wrote Woman Work. Angelou wrote this poem as the voice of a slave woman. The first stanza is what gives readers the feel of what this poem is about. “I’ve got children to tend; The clothes to mend; The floor to mop; The food to shop,” etc. Although these chores could belong to anyone, readers know she is a slave when she says she lives in a hut (line 12). The first stanza is almost 2 times longer than the following four stanzas. That’s probably the case because the first stanza is the most significant. Readers are being introduced to this slave woman, the life she lives, and the hardships she has to face. Some might say that the last four stanzas could just be grouped together. They go hand-in-hand with each other. Those stanzas all talk about finding some kind of release and comfort (Contantakis 289).
Maya talks about wanting the rain to cool down her brow in lines 15 through 18. In lines 19 through 22, it talks about how she’d like a storm powerful enough to just take her away; far away, so she can have rest. She wants to rest in lines 23 through 26 also; she wants it to snow gently. In the last stanza, she’s basically saying that all she has to rely on in nature. After a long day at work, all that’s left is the different elements of the earth(Constantakis 289-290). Slavery is obviously the biggest theme of this poem. Lines 12 and 30 are what let the readers know of the way she lives. To tag along with slavery, African American culture is another theme. Slavery was and is such a big part of the African American culture that it just makes sense for them to tie together. Self-identity, gender roles, exploitation, and nature are all other themes that are expressed in this poem (Contantakis 290-292).
There are a lot of poetic elements in this poem that just might be a good reason as to why it isn’t always so hard for people to understand. Lines 23 through 26 use imagery; snowflakes falling gently, cold icy kisses. It takes the reader there with the slave woman. They can feel the things she feels. They can see the things she sees(Constantakis 293).
In lines 23-25, Angelou uses a good amount of personification. She says that the snowflakes cover the woman with kisses. Snowflakes cannot kiss. Kissing is a gesture of comfort. Humans mainly do it and animals do it too though, but still, snowflakes can’t.
One might say that this poem was pretty easy to understand. There aren’t any words that a reader shouldn’t know, and the phrases are clear as day. This is a piece of protest poetry. A lot of people don’t realize it, but protesting can be much easier to comprehend than other types of literature. The things in this poem, stated by the author can be things people leave in the back of their minds because they are too afraid to bring up what troubles them; but they are still there. The first few times reading this, readers might think that this is a poem about the things that only women are expected to do. That could pose a problem. The way for people to understand what this poem is really about is to think deeper into their hearts and realize that slavery happened, and it will always be a part of our history. People can appreciate that in a poem; that thing that makes someone want to feel more; that feeling a person gets when they know that there has to be more to it.
This poem is empowering. Although it talks about all the things the slave woman has to do, it’s cool to think that those are things only women can do. No one really expects a man to cook; clean the floors, change babies, shop, and clean and dry the clothes. In a way, women should take pride in that. Women need to take pride in the things that God created them specifically to do. Readers might not like the fact that this is a truthful work of art. There are no ways of putting things lightly. Readers are not just eased into the world of a slave; they are thrown right in the middle of it. Woman Work is a brutally honest and sad poem, and people need to realize and except it. One might think they should feel bad, but no. People need to go out and do something about it. This was a problem back in the day of Mrs. Angelou, and it’s still a problem today.
There is not really much a person could say that they don’t like about this poem. It’s not insulting to anyone, and it isn’t really harsh. It expresses the feelings of a lonely slave woman, and that’s about it. This poem gives great information. It does a fantastic job at putting the reader in the story with the narrator. Whether people are African American or Caucasian, slavery will always be a part of them. The roles of women will also never change, unless the women decide to change them. Angelou published another memorable poem in that same year. The poem is known as Still I Rise, or some may know it as And Still I Rise. Either way the title is seen, it is still the same poem. The first stanza seems to put readers in a dark place. Not literally, but it gives the people the sense that that’s where they start, and it’s the place they can rise up from (Constantakis 220).
One might feel that the second stanza is where Angelou’s attitude really comes into play. She asks multiple distressing questions kind of in a sarcastic and proud town; almost to brag about herself. One may think it to be a little uncomfortable, but that just may be the feeling that Maya was trying in inject in her readers. She wants people to know that prejudice and hatred are not going to bring her down. Although she’s asking all these questions, she doesn’t really care as to how they are answered. In the third stanza, Angelou is comparing her rising dignity and confidence to that of things like the sun, moon, and stars. It seems to be a recurring thing for her to use the elements of nature.The fourth stanza gives the readers some more questions. These questions are clearly more direct though. These questions also don’t sound so chant and rant-like (Constantakis 220-221).
Stanza number five continues to ask a question, but this time the narrator is already assuming the answer, “yes.” This part of the poem seems to be the part where Angelou is trying to teach a lesson to her readers, or possibly the specific “White” audience. The sixth stanza is where the poem gets pretty juicy. It’s an announcement, maybe a promise, or even something of a challenge. The author is stating that it doesn’t matter what anyone says to her. She’s stating that she will rise no matter what people try to do to break her. She will not be broken; not for anyone.
The controversy starts in the seventh stanza. This is where Angelou is challenging the black stereotypes, and not just black but the black female stereotypes. This stanza is breaking that hold on the black women. The narrator is a siren; she’s a seductive and intense woman. Much power comes from her beauty. The eighth stanza is where the confirmation comes in. She’s stating that history is history. The past needs to either but left in the past, or be set aside. No matter what happened to her in the past, the narrator is staying that she will still rise. Black women are on the verge of creating a new image, and they will continue to rise. They aren’t going to start this all-out war, but they are going to rise with class, unity, and respect; this is stated in the last stanza (Constantakis 221).
There are quite a few themes expressed in this poem. African American pride is a big one as well as racism. Determination and self-confidence are two themes in this poem that go hand in hand. Those themes are perhaps the mostly clearly expressed out of them all. “I” is used probably the most frequently throughout this piece. That’s the author’s way of using repetition. This poem does a tremendous job at inspiring its readers, mainly the African American readers. The stereotypical roles of black women are challenged. African Americans are given hope with this poem. It may not be the longest poem out there, but there is power from simple words (Constantakis 227).
The Detached is another fantastic poem written by Maya Angelou. Angelou is expressing to her readers that short term actions mean nothing paralleled to the long term ones. At the end of the first stanza, Angelou states that “death is internal.” Most people only think of death as a physical thing, but what about that psychological death; the death that occurs inside? Most people may ask if the two could ever compare to each other. The second stanza states at the end that “Hell is internal.”When Maya states that Gods neither know nor wish to know that hell is internal, she really is specifically talking to the many gods out there. Those gods will never understand the suffering that the human soul is forced to go through. She is patronizing the god’s worshipers. Rituals are the theme, if that wasn’t kind of prominent (“”).
At the end of the third and final stanza, Angelou states that “love is internal.” Maya is choosing to separate the idea of the external (sexual) part of love and the internal (feeling) of love. One might say that they couldn’t describe how the tone changes in this last stanza compared to the first two, but it does. It seems to be kind of a lost or searching tone, maybe. Just because someone doesn’t openly express his/her love on the external surface doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it still (“”). The title of this poem is what puts the reader in the shoes of the narrator. It may even give the reader a chance to look inside themselves. This is about that person everyone knows is just detached from everything. The first stanza focuses specifically on a woman who feels pain from being cut off by an abusive husband. One might get this from the reference to “Bluebeards.” A bluebeard is some character in a fable that killed all of his wives. Talk about tough love.
The second stanza focuses mainly on the cult practices or just religious practices in general. Angelou is saying that these practices come from troubled and extremely unhappy people. She believes that gods do not and will never understand the sufferings that the human soul has to endure throughout its lifetime. She expresses this feeling when she says that gods neither know nor wish to know that hell is internal. The third and final stanza focuses on love. Angelou is expressing the difference between internal and external love. She talks about how different the outside (sexual) nature of love is compared to the inside (feeling) of love. As opposed to the first two stanzas, Angelou states that people use love (the wrong way!) as a way to just heal their unhappiness. That’s when love gets complicated, and messes everything up.
Some people may not know who exactly Maya Angelou is. She is no stranger to this world. She has been in several Broadway shows and movies. Her most recent, if the facts are right, was a small role in the movie, Madea’s Family Reunion. She reads poetry in that movie, and it has the power to make a person feel like they are just sitting right next to her. She bore everything to this world, and this world should appreciate all of it. This poem really puts the world into a better perspective for the readers. People can appreciate that there are things much deeper than the things people see on the surface. This poem challenges readers to think outside the box. Being “detached” can sometimes turn out to be a good thing. Not everyone is meant to follow the different ways that the world tells them they should follow.
One might say that this poem is, in a way, insulting. The only reason one might feel this way is because they know that one of the stanzas applies to them. It’s almost like Angelou is putting people into three categories: the lovers, the religious, and the scared. Scared doesn’t mean “afraid of the dark,” or “afraid of heights.” It means that these people are afraid to live their lives because of a particular person, or just an event that has impacted them in such a negative way that they think things will never change. One might say that Maya Angelou is crazy. She’s too out there, and gives way too much of her opinion, but that’s not true. All she does is speak what’s on her mind, and there is definitely truth in that alone. Angelou’s work is praised throughout the world, and will continue to do so even after her. Her work is priceless. People are soon going to understand how much of a mark she has left, and continues to leave on this earth.