Still I Rise: Language Choice, Imagery And Structure

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An admired poet, activist, singer, director and dancer, Maya Angelou best known for her award-winning book “I know why the caged bird sings”, changed the world through her words. My name is Maya Le Goff and I will be your host on today’s podcast of “literature round table.” Today’s discussion, Maya Angelou’s famous poem Still I Rise. Written in 1978 during the time of the civil rights movement, this poem became an anthem to all African Americans in the united states of America. Angelou’s poem conveys the struggles of overcoming the discrimination and segregation she and many others experienced. I will be focusing on three of the countless poetic devices used throughout the poem: language choice, imagery and structure.

The first poetic device that will be discussed today is language choice. Repetition, metaphors and similes are all present in the poem to further convey the theme. The use of the word rise is constantly repeated throughout the poem, to show that she will rise above racism. A good example of this can be seen in the line ‘you may trod me in the very dirt but still, like dust ill rise’. It states to the audience that no matter how unfairly she is treated due to her colour, that no matter how much people will try and push her down, that she will not let herself fall, that she will not be crushed. The use of this word is further depicted in the last stanza when Angelou repeats the word I rise, 5 times. By doing this she reminds us of the theme of the poem, that she will overcome the inequality, and rise above it. Maya Angelou has also used metaphors to help reinforce the effect of repetition. In the excerpt, ‘You may shoot me with your words’, she uses vocabulary that gives implications of suffering. In this case she refers to the pain of being shot with a gun, implying that the bullets are her oppressor’s vile language. Another example of a metaphor used in the poem, ‘You may cut me with your eyes’. Maya Angelou once again gives implications of suffering, only this time referring to the oppressor’s cruel looks, which are so painful and sharp that they cut through her like a knife. Whilst metaphors were used in the poem to describe the pain created by her oppressors, similes were used to emphasise on the fact that she will rise above that pain. In the line ‘But still, like dust, I’ll rise’, Angelou is stating that she will rise above the pain caused by her oppressors, in the same way that dust rises in the air. Maya Angelou has creatively expressed her resilient attitude towards discrimination with the use of repetition, metaphors and similes.

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Similarly, to language features, imagery is used to create a vivid image of the hurt that others cause her to feel, and how it will not stop her from rising. Take the line “shoulders falling down like teardrops, weakened by my soulful cries”. This line paints an incredibly detailed image of someone who is completely weak and broken. As you continue to read you then notice a change in the imagery she uses, for example, “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, welling and swelling I bear in the tide”. In this line Angelou has once again used extremely symbolic imagery, only this time she describes herself as a black ocean. She is saying that she cannot and will not be held down by others, that she is a magnificent and strong force of nature, that she is a powerful African American woman. The poem has effectively used imagery to make the readers feel what she feels as an African American woman during the time in which she lived.

The last poetic device that will be mentioned is structure. The structure helps give the words an extreme importance, letting the feelings of the poet shine through. The first seven stanzas of the poem have used a consistent structure forming a solid rhythm. By taking a closer look, it can be seen that these stanzas all have one thing in common. Each stanza mentions the words “you” another person present her poem who is constantly targeting the poet. The “you” referring to the people that have discriminated and victimised her. The first seven stanzas describe the ways in which these people have tried to break her, by “treading her in the dirt” and “cutting her with their eyes”, and how they are insulted by her “sassiness” and “sexiness”. Contrastingly the last two stanzas are both different in structure and subject. They are between 6 to 7 lines and have cut out the use of the word “you”. These lines focus instead on how the poet will rise repeating the line “I rise” multiple times. These lines also contain an extremely subtle change which have a great importance to the poem. Unlike the first seven stanzas in the poem which state that she will rise, Maya Angelou finishes the poem with the words I rise. She states that she is rising, that she is accepting the pain and she is moving on. Maya Angelou ends the poem saying that she is rising towards a brighter future “leaving behind nights of terror and fear”. Overall the structure has given the words in this poem a greater meaning and significance, making the theme stand out more effectively.

Maya Angelou has skilfully conveyed her strong approach towards the hardships of overcoming racism. She has done this through the use of poetic devices such as language choice, imagery and structure. Angelou’s poem inspires many all over the world and reminds them to always be strong and to never let anything bring them down. 


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