In this essay I intend to analyse two poems that I have recently studied ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou and ‘Charlotte O’Neil’s Song’ by Fiona Farrell, Both poems have been written in the last 30 years by modern female writers. The poems talk about slavery and oppression. ‘Still I rise’ is a poem about Black oppression in the 1920s. ‘Charlotte O’Neil’s Song’ is based upon a true event, but tells the story through fictional characters.
Analysis of ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou
‘Still I Rise’ is a protest poem that talks about the slavery, oppression, dreams and hopes of black slaves. The poem has nine stanzas the first seven are all four lines long and have a rhyming pattern of ABCB, the last two stanzas are longer which shows the significance of the message portrayed in those two stanzas. ‘Still I rise’ is an upbeat, defiant poem with an upbeat and fast rhythm. Angelou uses similes to convey how black people were badly treated by white people, e.g. ‘You may trod me down in the very dirt,
But still like dust ill rise’
The term ‘treated like dirt’ is a common phrase most people are familiar with and I think Maya has repackaged it in this 1920’s way, but we can still relate to the sentiment and gritty issue of what it feels like on a personal level to be treated with contempt on a daily basis. If you go back and look at this sentence again May says ‘you may’ not ‘you have’ turning this into a more positive statement.
I also wonder if the reference to dirt as a simile has a double meaning, also refering to her colour. Is Maya
Like dust is very interesting when you really begin to think about it. When you try and clean away dust it gets everywhere, covers everything, you think you have got rid of it, but later you come back to find it has resettled.
In stanza two Angelou asks ‘Does my sassiness upset you?’ which at the time would have affected white people because black people were supposed be submissive, with no real personality feelings or emotions she also says
‘Because I walk like I’ve got oil wells,
Pumping in my living room’
When she writes this she is saying that she is proud and confident and will challenge anyone who tries to put her down. Angelou uses the metaphors
‘Just like moons and like suns’
Which always rise no matter what, she uses them to tell the reader that no matter what she can rise above everything. In stanza six Angelou uses personification. ‘You may shout me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still like air ill rise.’
She uses this stanza to tell people what the white people did to them, and what they thought of them, she tells us at the very end using air, a natural element that she can rise above it. In stanza seven she asks
‘Does my sexiness upset you?,
Does it come as a surprise?’
Maya Angelou is a strong, arrogant character, she has managed to hold on to her self respect and strength through everything she has been through. Even though she as been a slave she is aware and proud of her gender and sexuality. Why should white people be surprised that she can feel sexy? These rhetorical questions posed by Maya make me think is she not only fighting the battle against black oppression but is also struggling with feminism, the fact that she is black and female.
In the last two stanzas Angelou talks about all the things she is leaving behind and everything she wants to achieve, after every line she repeats ‘I Rise.’
‘Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.