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An analysis of the Maya Angelou poem , "To a man".

By discordia Sep 11, 2003 1252 Words
'To a man' is written by Maya Angelou, whose first novel was an

autobiography of her varied life, (activist, singer, waitress, dancer etc.)

called 'I know why the caged bird sings'. She has written two collections

of prose, 'Wouldn't take nothing for my journey now' and 'Even the stars

look lonesome'. Angelou has written several famous poems, including

'Still I rise' and 'On the pulse of the morning' for the inaugeration of

President Clinton. Maya Angelou now has a lifetime appointment as

Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University of North


The poem is about the man that Maya Angelou loves, and she uses

a variety of metaphors and images to describe him to the reader. Maya

Angelou has a very decisive style of writing and uses lots of modal verbs

such as 'is' to convey her message to the reader. She writes poems to

entertain people, and to be read aloud. I think this one is one of those

poems because she uses full stops and capital letters to show when

pauses should be given and which words need particular emphasis. This

poem is serious, and thought provoking, and she uses unusual imagery to

compare her man to. I like the style she uses to give meaning to her

words, and how she uses punctuation and enjambement together which

gives an interesting effect. The mood is quite happy, as she describes her

man, who makes her feel warm and laughs through his own troubles.

The poem does not follow conventional structure, or use syllabic

sentencing on each line. The lines do not rhyme, and it is like Angelou

has just written down her thoughts, without purposefully making them

into a piece of poetry. The poem is twenty two lines long, and puts

important ideas about the man on their own , or on a separate line to

show the reader how important this aspect of the man is.

'To a man' is written from Maya Angelou's own experience, and

was about her first husband. It describes his personality, and likens him

to a big cat. Angelou uses metaphors such as 'My man is Black Golden

Amber' to begin the poem. The first line 'My man is' sets the scene and

tells the reader that the poem is about the man Angelou loves. The word

'My', indicates possessiveness, unlike the title which is 'to a man', this

could be any man. It is unsure why she writes to any man, not her own,

but possibly it is to tell them how great her man is and that she doesn't

need anyone else. The word 'Black' could be in reference to the skin

colour of the man, or his personality, which could be evil, or depressed.

I think it means 'evil' because of the later imagery used in the poem.

'Golden' implies that he is special, and precious as gold, as does the next

word 'Amber' which is also a precious stone. The word 'Amber' gives the

idea of warm colours, reds and oranges, which link in to the rest of the


The next line is simply, 'Changing' which means her man is

constantly changing from Black to Golden to Amber, his personalities

change. 'Warm mouths of Brandy Fine' I think this means that kissing

him is like drinking brandy, and makes her warm which ties in with the

warm amber colours used earlier. 'Cautious sunlight on a patterned rug'

means that maybe her man is cautious sunlight, which links to the

imagery of golden. Possibly Angelou thinks of herself as the rug, and he

cautiously lights her up, and makes her warm again. The next line

indicates that the man smiles through his troubles, 'coughing laughter'

and that he has a particular smell, of 'French tobacco'.

'Graceful turns on woollen stilts' shows that her man can not only

walk on stilts made of wool, i.e.) do the impossible but also, turn on them

gracefully, and make the impossibilities of life seem easy to her. The

following line is simply 'Secretive?', Angelou is asking herself a question

about the man, is he secretive?, and then answers in the next line,

'A cat's eye'. I think that this indicates that he has depths and mystery

like the cat's eyes which swirl with hidden colours. He is not secretive,

just has many layers that cannot be unravelled all at once. Cat's eyes are

golden and change colour with the light, which links in to the idea of the

man's temperament, also ever changing.

'Southern' is in it's own sentence at the beginning of the next line

which could show that her man is from the South , possibly American,

like Angelou herself. The next sentence says he is 'plump and tender,

with navy-bean sullenness', navy is traditionally a very masculine colour

which could mean he is a very macho man. The next line re emphasises

how tender the man is, it says simply , 'The gentleness'. The fact that

Angelou doesn't use a lot of words to describe the gentleness suggests to

me how gentle he is, she cannot use words to describe it, it is just there,

which is in direct contrast from the sullen man who likes navy blue. This

again gives the impression of an ever changing personality. The next

line mentions a cat again, 'A big cat stalks through stubborn bush'. This

imagery has an air of menace about it, the cat using it's gentleness to

stalk, capture and kill it's prey, a cat is graceful, and light but also can be

deadly. This adds an air of danger to the man, is he as sweet as he first


Angelou now asks if she mentioned amber, which links back to the

start of the poem, and gives the reader the red, gold imagery again, and

an idea of the warmth Angelou feels with her man. She likens amber to a

'heatless fire, consuming itself', which (as in other Maya Angelou) poetry

gives the image of a cycle, forever consuming itself. Possibly the

heatless fire is what she sees in her man's eyes. The next line says

'Again.Anew. Into ever neverlessness' which shows the cycle again, and

also could portray the image of a cat's eye and the way the colours in that

change. 'My man is Amber', this is a repetition of the first phrase,

Angelou uses a definite metaphor to compare her man to Amer. She then

repeats her third line, 'Changing', which again shows the way his colours

change like Amber. The next line is 'Always into itself' , which could be

acting as a metaphor for their love, which also changes but remains the

same. This is further shown in the last lines, 'New.Now.New' and 'Still

itself'. The poem ends with the word 'Still'' on a line o it's own, with a

full stop, this shows that their love is still, and the way he feels for her,

unlike the colours doesn't swirl and changed and is still.

I think that Maya Angelou wrote the poem to describe the way

her husband made her feel, and to keep a part of that feeling with her, for

posterity. She writes to any man to let them know what she has, and to

convey her deep love for this particular man. Another reason for her to

write the poem is to try to make sense of the way her man acts, and the

way his moods change. I think that Maya Angelou wrote this to show

the complex emotions she feels about her man, possession, tenderness,

love, and warmth all at once.

The poem's effect on me was that it showed me the way a

woman felt about her man, and it helped me understand the deeper

emotions of a relationship. I liked the way she used Amber to show how

her man changed, because it wasn't in a negative way, the Amber gave an

impression of how precious he was, yet she changed her perspective with

him. 'To a man' made me think about the images and metaphors used,

and I enjoyed analysing it because now, I enjoy it more, knowing how

Angelou felt when she wrote it.

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