Still I Rise: Short Summary
Still I Rise is an empowering poem written by African – American poet Maya Angelou. The speaker of the poem is a black woman who addresses the white oppressor as ‘You’.
The tone of the poem is defiant, angry, sarcastic, self-assured. The voice is of oppressed who is talking about the oppression held for centuries. The poem is about the struggle to overcome prejudice and injustice. The speaker is courageous, rebellious and confident in attitude with self-respect.
The poem is a symbol of hope for the victimised. It is the fight by oppressed to the power misused by the oppressor. The poem is universal in appeal though it is written against the backdrop of black slavery.
Stanza wise summary
Stanza 1. The poem is clearly addressed to the White oppressor by a black woman. The stanza describes the false historical lies written by the oppressor in the historical writings. The repeated use of the phrase ‘Still I Rise’ shows the firm self-belief of the speaker that nothing can hold her back. Speaker compares herself with dust and says like dust she will rise.
Stanza 2. Speaker is asking questions about the sadness of the oppressor. She has the attitude as if she has got the oil wells that means she is happy and confident and her attitude now has become her powerful weapon.
Stanza 3. The speaker compares herself with the certainty of suns and moons, simply with the certainty of nature and with the hope that she will spring high.
Stanza 4. Speaker is asking questions about the unfulfilled expectations of the white oppressor who did want to see the speaker as weak, broken and crying with bowed head and lowered eyes.
Stanza 5. The speaker is saying that now her attitude is confident as though she has got gold mines digging in her own backyard.
Stanza 6. The speaker now permits the white oppressor to use abusive words, to kill with hateful looks, but it would be of no use because now like air she will rise.
Stanza 7. In this stanza, the speaker talks about the physical assault by the white oppressor and says that as a fight against it, now she does not have a helpless attitude.
Stanza 8. Stanza 8 and 9 are irregular where the spirit of freedom reaches up to the peak.
In stanza 8 she talks about the past which was rooted in pain, and out of the huts of history’s shame, she will rise.
Here, the poet uses a metaphor that she is a black ocean very wide welling and swelling.
Now she has left behind the nights of terror and fear and the bright future is on the way. The poet uses the bright image of a clear day. The speaker says she will rise to bring the ancestors gifts. She is the dream and hope of the slave.
The poem ends with the repetition of phrase ‘I rise’ which encapsulates the idea that now she has the firm belief over herself.
Analysis of Still I Rise
To begin with, what intrigued me extensively whilst I first embarked upon my analysis of the poem was the three-word title of the poem itself: ‘Still I rise’. The title – if pondered upon correctly – conceives the summary and the initial message running throughout the poem.
Therefore, for the purpose of my analysis, I have decided to analyse the entire poem while fixating upon the title itself and discerning how the very title of the poem resonates with the message and allusions trying to be portrayed throughout the poem by the poet.
This section will be divided into three parts as per the three words forming the title of the poem: ‘Still I Rise’.
The word ‘still’ refers to ‘something happening for longer than expected’ or a situation or action that continues to the present because it has not finished’.
The poet uses the word ‘still’ to connotate the perpetuity of the tyrannical oppression of the society. By stating “bitter” and “twisted lies” she mocks and taunts the society for making racial as well as sexist and discriminating comments and judgments. The poet also states: “write me down in history” referring towards the notion that history is written as per the society and its curriculum, and that those opposing it are always portrayed as the antagonist and wrongdoers. Also, beautifully, referring towards the superiority of the superior class and the inferiority of the inferior class, and how in the eyes of the people the former are always correct and how the latter are always wrong no matter what the situation.
Furthermore, the poet uses rhetorical questions such as “does my sassiness upset you?” to taunt the racial society more. The entire fourth stanza can be taken into account at that matter. The poet delineates for the readers the expectations of the society after analyzing it herself. She states: “want to see me broken…lowered my eyes…shoulders falling down…” This surmises for the readers the abusive society of that time and their harassment.
In the sixth stanza when the poet states: “shoot…words”, “cut…eyes”, “kill…hatefulness”, the readers are fully capable of comprehending the fact that the persecutions still haven’t ended. They are ongoing, in fact, they have inflicted upon the victims in every manner: “words, cuts, and hatefulness”. This choice of words and use of tone intensifies the effect of the poem and adds a different layer to it; giving it more emotion and integrity.
The entire poem is composed in the first-person narrative. The letter ‘I’ in the title informs the readers about the ensuing format of the poem.
Maya Angelou uses the first person narrative to her advantage in a very skilful manner in order to boast about her success “oil wells…”, to rebuke the society and their unjust customs “want to see me broken” and finally informing the world that no matter the persecutions and sexist discrimination “still I’ll rise”.
Moreover, through this format, the readers are able to notice the poet’s tone of sarcasm – “don’t you take it awful hard” – In a much better way while also noticing the poet’s strong and tedious tone in the fourth, fifth and the sixth stanza. This helps the readers to deduce that maybe Maya Angelou’s problems with the society and its people ran deeper than it appeared on the outside.
Furthermore, the poet’s consummate use of the first-person narrative is most effective towards the end of the poem when she compares herself to a “black ocean” stating that she “bear’s” the “tides”. In the previous stanza, the poet similarly compares herself to the “moons” and “the suns” and mentions the “certainty” of their “tide”. These two stanzas and comparison’s, when juxtaposed together, could possibly allude towards the same meaning: “the tides” referring to the disputes, obstacles and tyrannical oppression of the society. The “black ocean” and the “moons” and “the suns” referring towards the poet’s constant adherence and resilience; as the cycle of the sun and the moon rotates in an on-going perpetuity; similarly, the “ocean”, no matter the raging tides, still flows whilst adhering to the magnitude of the tides formulating within it.
Through this, the readers are able to comprehend and perceive the layers of symbolism and allegories endowed within the poem by the poet for the readers and the world to discern.
The third word in the title of the poem is perhaps the most influential and critical in accordance with the poem and the message which it is striving to convey.
The definition of ‘rise’ in the English Language is: “An upward movement; an instance of rising”. Throughout the poem, the readers witness the various patterns in which the poet urges those who are stifled within the shackles of oppression to ‘rise’ and take action. As an example, the poet ridicules the society and their customs – as discussed above – and rubs her success into their faces. Hence, she rises from within the persecution and the harassment and urges others to do so too.
Towards the beginning, the poet enumerates the society’s oppression and then, in the likes of a fatal incursion, she defiantly states that: “like dust, I’ll rise”, “like air, I’ll rise”. Amongst those various reasons of comparing herself to “dust”, one could be the fact that dust consists of small particles, yet it is fully capable of causing harm, for example, blinding someone’s vision. Likewise, by comparing herself to “dust”, one could suggest and allude that she was in fact warning the members of the society; warning them not to think of her as a child; warning them not to think of her as dirt because “like dust” she may be small but she is fully capable of causing them – and anyone else with such intentions – harm; something which is clearly evident and portrayed in the fifth and the sixth stanza of the poem, while also relevant throughout.
Moreover, ‘rise’ generally refers to an action. For example, a man was sitting down and then he ‘rose’ up. Which forces the readers to ponder, from where or what does the poet talk about rising from? The answer to this particular question can be obtained from the last few stanzas of the poem: “History’s shame…”, “Past that’s rooted in pain…”, “Nights of fear…” and “daybreak…wondrously clear”.
The poet talks about rising from within these oppressive and smothering situations towards a better and brighter future that is “wondrously clear”. Her final repetition of the sentence “I rise” three times explains the whirlwind of emotions blowing inside of her and her dream of being treated as equal and with just.
Hence, in these ways, the very title of the poem surmises the message and allegories running throughout the poem for the readers to contemplate. I would also like to mention that these analyses are based upon my own perspectives and opinions. They may be wrong but according to my understanding, they are corrected and accounted for.
Questions and Answers
Q. What is the subject of the poem?
Ans. The writer’s angry protest against racial discrimination. The speaker speaks out against the racial
prejudice and intolerance that she sees around her before making an appeal for black pride and
Q. Who is speaking?
Ans. 1st person narrative: “I”. A black woman.
Q. What is the location/setting of the poem?
Ans. This poem is written against the backdrop of invasive racism, racial separation/isolation and prejudice in America during the 1950s and 1960s.
Q. What is the theme and message of the poem:
Ans. The message of the poem is that Black people should rise and defeat all forms of discrimination based on race.
Q. What are the attitudes and feelings in the poem?
Ans. Emotions and feelings of the speaker: The speaker is angry and bold, courageous, daring and determined.
Q. What is the tone of the poem?
Ans. 1. Anger and open defiance.
2. Speaker’s tone of boldness, courage & daring is evident in lines 5, 17, 25.
3. Speaker expresses her determination in lines 13-14.
Q. Why has been the title “Still I Rise” has been repeated many times in the poem
Ans. The title is repeated 10 times throughout the poem. This creates an atmosphere, enables the harmony of the
rhyme scheme & states & makes clear the theme of the poem.
Q. Comment on how ‘Still I Rise’ celebrates the spirit of blacks.
Ans. Angelou’s most popular poem refers to the indomitable spirit of black people. Despite adversity and racism, Angelou expresses her faith that she, the speaker, and the whole of the black people will overcome their hardships and triumph.
Q. Explain the central idea or theme of the poem ‘Still I Rise’.
Ans. “Still I Rise” is primarily about self-respect and confidence. In the poem, Angelou reveals how she will overcome anything through her self-esteem. She shows how nothing can get her down. She will rise to any occasion and nothing, not even her skin colour, will hold her back.
Q. Explain the hopeful end of the poem ‘Still I Rise’.
Ans. The poem ends with the repetition of phrase ‘I rise’ which encapsulates the idea that now she has the firm belief over herself. She will rise to any occasion and nothing, not even her skin colour, will hold her back.
Q. What is the structure of Still I Rise?
Ans. ‘Still I Rise’ is a nine stanza poem that’s separated into uneven sets of lines. The first seven stanzas contain four lines, known as quatrains, stanzas eight has six lines and the ninth has nine. The first seven stanzas follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, the eighth: ABABCC and the ninth: ABABCCBBB.
Q. What is the symbolism in Still I Rise?
Ans. 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.
Q. What does the poem’s speaker mean by the phrase”I’ll rise”?
Ans. The speaker means that she as a female and women all around will rise up to the occasion and defeat anything that is in their way. No one can stop them.
Q. Who is the audience of Still I Rise?
Ans. The audience of the poem is the people who have been oppressing the speaker for most of her life. These people are the whites who believe they are superior to African Americans and should possess more rights than they can.
Q. How does the repetition of the phrase, “I rise, “affect the tone and overall impact of the poem?
Ans. The various forms of this refrain (“I’ll rise,” “I rise”) give the poem a determined and triumphant tone. The Repetition of a phrase gives it emphasis, and that is exactly what the poet/speaker is doing here