And Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

“And Still I Rise” is a powerful poem written by Maya Angelou, celebrating resilience, strength, and the indomitable spirit of the human soul. Here’s a line-by-line explanation of the poem:

“You may write me down in history” – The speaker acknowledges that others may try to diminish or dismiss her, perhaps by documenting her struggles or achievements in a negative light. However, this won’t define her worth or deter her from rising.

“With your bitter, twisted lies” – The speaker refers to the lies and falsehoods that others may spread about her. These lies may be maliciously crafted to undermine her character or accomplishments.

“You may trod me in the very dirt” – The speaker acknowledges that she may be subjected to mistreatment, oppression, or humiliation. Others may try to belittle or degrade her, metaphorically stomping on her dignity.

“But still, like dust, I’ll rise” – Despite the attempts to diminish her, the speaker asserts that she will rise above the hardships, just like dust settles temporarily but ultimately lifts and disperses.

“Does my sassiness upset you?” – The speaker confronts those who might be offended or threatened by her confidence, assertiveness, and boldness. She questions whether her unapologetic nature challenges their expectations or norms.

“Why are you beset with gloom?” – The speaker questions why others might be filled with negativity or bitterness because of her sassiness. It suggests that her strength and resilience shouldn’t be perceived as a threat but rather as a source of inspiration and empowerment.

“‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells pumping in my living room” – The speaker metaphorically describes her confidence and pride. The image of oil wells pumping symbolizes her abundance of inner resources and prosperity, indicating that she walks with confidence and self-assurance.

“Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides” – The speaker compares herself to celestial bodies and natural phenomena that follow predictable patterns. Just as the moon and sun rise and set with certainty and tides ebb and flow, the speaker’s rise is inevitable and unstoppable.

“Just like hopes springing high, still I’ll rise” – The speaker draws upon the resilience of hope, emphasizing that no matter how challenging or bleak the circumstances, she will always rise above adversity.

“Did you want to see me broken?” – The speaker questions the desire some may have to witness her defeated, broken, or disheartened. She challenges the notion that her struggles or setbacks can break her spirit.

“Bowed head and lowered eyes?” – The speaker questions whether others expect her to be submissive or diminished, displaying a defeated posture. She rejects the notion of conforming to such expectations.

“Shoulders falling down like teardrops” – The speaker paints a vivid image of someone defeated, with shoulders slumping in despair, akin to tears falling from their eyes. She rejects this image, asserting that she won’t be weighed down by despair.

“Weakened by my soulful cries” – The speaker acknowledges the emotional turmoil and pain she may experience, expressed through soulful cries. However, she refuses to let her cries weaken her resolve or define her.

“Does my haughtiness offend you?” – The speaker challenges the notion that her self-confidence or pride should be seen as offensive. She questions why her refusal to conform to societal expectations might be perceived negatively.

“Don’t you take it awful hard” – The speaker advises others not to take her haughtiness or confidence personally or to be deeply affected by it. Her refusal to be diminished doesn’t imply an attack on others but rather an affirmation of her own strength.

“‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines diggin’ in my own backyard” – The speaker metaphorically describes her laughter, symbolizing her wealth of inner happiness and joy. She suggests that her laughter is a testament to her resilience and abundance.

“You may shoot me with your words” – The speaker acknowledges the power of hurtful words and the potential harm they can cause. Others may try to attack or discredit her through verbal attacks or insults.

“You may cut me with your eyes” – The speaker recognizes the power of judgmental looks or glances that can wound and undermine one’s spirit. She acknowledges the potential impact of the piercing gazes of others.

“You may kill me with your hatefulness” – The speaker acknowledges the destructive force of hate and the potential harm it can cause. She recognizes that others may harbor hatred toward her but asserts that it won’t ultimately defeat her.

“But still, like air, I’ll rise” – The speaker likens her resilience to the air, which is intangible and cannot be contained. Just as air rises and cannot be suppressed, she affirms that she will rise above negativity and adversity.

“Does my sexiness upset you?” – The speaker confronts those who might be uncomfortable or threatened by her allure, confidence, and sensuality. She questions why her attractiveness or sexual expression might disturb or challenge others.

“Does it come as a surprise” – The speaker questions whether her sexiness or allure should be unexpected or shocking. She challenges societal expectations that may attempt to suppress or limit her expression.

“That I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs?” – The speaker metaphorically describes her movements, suggesting that her dance is filled with grace, beauty, and preciousness, like diamonds. It celebrates her femininity and sensual power.

“Out of the huts of history’s shame” – The speaker acknowledges the burdens of historical shame and oppression that have been placed upon her and her community. She refers to the struggles and discrimination that have been endured throughout history.

“I rise” – The speaker affirms her ability to rise above the weight of history’s shame. It represents her resilience, strength, and determination to overcome the challenges that have been faced.

“Up from a past that’s rooted in pain” – The speaker recognizes the painful experiences of the past that have shaped her. She acknowledges the struggles and traumas that she and her ancestors have endured, but she refuses to be defined solely by that pain.

“I rise” – Once again, the speaker reaffirms her commitment to rise above the pain and adversity of the past. It represents her ability to transcend the limitations imposed upon her.

“I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide” – The speaker presents herself as an expansive and powerful force, comparing herself to a vast black ocean. This image suggests strength, depth, and uncontainable energy.

“Welling and swelling I bear in the tide” – The speaker continues the ocean metaphor, describing herself as welling and swelling within the tides. It signifies her inner power and the momentum that propels her forward.

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear” – The speaker refers to the nights filled with terror and fear that have haunted her. She alludes to the experiences of oppression, discrimination, and injustice that she and her community have endured.

“I rise” – Once again, the speaker asserts her determination to rise above the nights of terror and fear. It symbolizes her ability to transcend the traumas of the past and move forward.

“Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear” – The speaker envisions a bright and clear daybreak, symbolizing a new era of hope, justice, and equality. It represents the possibility of a better future and the transformative power of resilience.

“I rise” – The final line serves as a resounding affirmation of the speaker’s resilience, strength, and ability to rise above any adversity she may face. It echoes the central theme of the poem and encapsulates the indomitable spirit that runs through its entirety.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was an influential American poet, author, and civil rights activist. She is widely celebrated for her literary works, which explore themes of identity, race, womanhood, and resilience. Angelou’s life was marked by significant challenges and triumphs, and her writing reflects her personal experiences and the struggles of the African American community.

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou had a difficult childhood. She faced racial discrimination and grew up during the era of segregation in the United States. At the age of eight, she was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend, which left her mute for several years. During this time of silence, Angelou discovered her love for literature and poetry, reading voraciously and finding solace in the power of words.

In her early adulthood, Angelou pursued various careers, including working as a dancer, singer, actress, and journalist. She traveled extensively, living in different cities in the United States and abroad. In the 1960s, Angelou became involved in the civil rights movement and worked alongside prominent figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Her experiences during this time deeply influenced her writing and activism.

One of Angelou’s most renowned works is her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969). The book, which covers her childhood and early adult life, explores themes of racism, identity, and resilience. It garnered critical acclaim and brought Angelou international recognition. She went on to write several more autobiographies, including “Gather Together in My Name” (1974), “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas” (1976), and “The Heart of a Woman” (1981), among others.

In addition to her autobiographies, Angelou was an accomplished poet. Her poetry collections, such as “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie” (1971) and “And Still I Rise” (1978), resonate with readers for their powerful imagery, lyrical style, and uplifting messages.

Throughout her career, Angelou received numerous accolades and honors for her contributions to literature and her activism. She was appointed as the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco, served as a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, and delivered a moving poem titled “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. Angelou was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest honors bestowed upon civilians in the United States.

Maya Angelou’s work continues to inspire and empower people around the world. Her writing captures the essence of the human spirit and serves as a testament to the resilience, strength, and beauty that can emerge from adversity. Her legacy as a prominent writer and civil rights activist endures, leaving an indelible mark on literature and society as a whole.

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