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
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.
On this Poem: If you've heard the saying, ‘Might doesn't make right, it only makes history’, this particular poem by Maya Angelou is the anthem of those who refuse to be cowed down by their past. Their triumph lies not merely in survival but in prevailing over bigotry and hatred; living in the unassailable certainty of their self-worth.
On the Poet: Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014) passed away today at the age of eighty-six. She is best known for her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and was also a Pulitzer-Prize nominated poet.
In Still I Rise, the poet may very well have been speaking about herself. Growing up in Arkansas in the 1930s, Angelou (born Marguerite Annie Johnson) was so traumatized by the events of her childhood that she stopped talking for several years. At the age of sixteen, she was a single mother. Yet Angelou’s career began to surmount all her personal trials. She became known as an actress, singer, dancer, writer, and civil rights activist. During the course of her extraordinary life, she learned to speak six languages, and won three Grammy awards.
Angelou’s personal friend, Oprah Winfrey, had this to say about her, “The world knows her as a poet but at the heart of her, she was a teacher. ‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give’ is one of my best lessons from her.”