Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Poetry Madness": Dr. Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise" (TP-DASTT)

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 back yard.

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. 
T – Title: “Still I Rise” implies that the speaker has already suffered a great deal. One has to be knocked down before rising, and “still” (as opposed to titles like “I Rise for the First Time,” “Learning to Rise,” or even simply “I Rise”) signifies that the reason for her fall has occurred several times.

P – Paraphrase: This poem is a record of Dr. Angelou’s emotional reaction to the pride with which she has learned to define herself (and the resilience of the African American population at large), despite the stigma and hatred that the world uses to “trod [her/them] in the very dirt.” Since this is a lyric poem, there is no story to re-tell (a narrative poem, like “Dinner Guest: Me”). Dr. Angelou addresses the poem to whoever looks down on her or the black people as a race, defying such antagonistic people by asserting her self-confidence.

D – Devices: A common device in this poem is simile. Dr. Angelou’s repeated “I will rise…” statements are often followed by similes: “But still, like dust, I’ll rise” (4); “Just like moons and like suns,/With the certainty of tides,/Just like hopes springing high,/Still I’ll rise” (9-12). By likening her rise to certain and durable images, Dr. Angelou brings a sense of immortality and perseverance to her confidence—her “rise.” Specifically, the simile involving the certainty of tides and human hope brings about nature symbolism (geographical (solar bodies and the tides) and human nature (hope)). These forms of nature are used to solidify the permanent, almost instinctual nature of Dr. Angelou’s/the black people’s sense of dignity. Dr. Angelou also uses hyperbole: “…I walk like I’ve got oil wells/Pumping in my living room” (7-8); “…I laugh like I’ve got gold mines/Diggin’ in my own back yard” (19-20); “…I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs” (28). The powerful message the hyperboles express aptly demonstrates the extent of Dr. Angelou’s deep-seated self confidence. Metaphor is also employed: “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide/Welling and swelling I bear in the tide” (33-34). Dr. Angelou’s metaphor serves a similar purpose to the similes; however, its more direct comparison highlights Dr. Angelou’s overwhelming personal strength in a similar manner to the hyperboles. Dr. Angelou also uses metonymy: “Did you want to see me broken…Shoulders falling down like teardrops?” (13-15). The substitution of her shoulders for her whole emotional state highlights Dr. Angelou’s complete sense of fulfillment that stands in direct contrast to the audience’s attempts to denigrate her. The four-line stanzas repeat in a rhyme scheme of “ABCB,” and so on—reminiscent of someone who has been knocked down, only to re-appear later. Dr. Angelou also uses verbal irony: “Does my haughtiness offend you?/Don’t you take it awful hard” (17-18). Obviously, Dr. Angelou’s admitted haughtiness makes it so that she really could not care less if the reader is offended by her pride. Instead, this irony enforces her overall defiantly prideful tone. Finally, Dr. Angelou uses allusion to get her final point across: “Out of the huts of history’s shame/I rise” (29-30); “I am the dream and the hope of the slave” (40). Obviously, these allusions point to slavery. Dr. Angelou uses them to make the point that what is intended to tear down her people only makes them stronger; racial hatred is not a boundary defining what the black people can do. Dr. Angelou refuses to become enslaved to the emotional trauma that prejudice brings about. All of these devices are rich in imagery, which grants the reader sensory access to Angelou’s figures of speech.

A – Attitude: The attitude in this poem is predominantly colored with Dr. Angelou’s personal self-confidence, and pride in the African American race. At times, however, she is willing to acknowledge what people can do to try to lower her esteem—although she assures the reader that they will fail (1-4).

S – Shifts: Shifts occur between the first and second stanzas, the fifth and sixth stanzas, the sixth and seventh stanzas, the seventh and eighth stanzas, and between lines 32 and 33. Each of these shifts share a similar emotional impact: each time, Angelou’s tone changes from a sense of resignation to the injustices done to her and the black people, to one of hope and proud defiance.

T – Title: After reading the poem, one gains a deeper sense of appreciation for the years of pain, fear and hatred that inspired the emotions behind “Still I Rise.” Before, one could only surmise that the title indicated a long history of sadness; now, the reader knows this for sure and understands the different kinds of emotional responses it can create.

T – Theme/Total Meaning: The overall theme/total meaning of “Still I Rise” is (as aforementioned) that prejudice will never become a fence that subdues the black people, but only amplifies their perseverance. Even if they are trod into the dirt or shot with words, their sense of dignity will always rise back up. Black people will never become defined by stigma. A person who learns to appreciate his or her own worth reaches a level of maturity that empowers him or her to defy any possible stereotypes. Despite its painful past, “Still I Rise” works to convey an encouraging message “Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear” about embracing individuality.

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