Yesterday, at the age of 86, Maya Angelou passed away. I envy those able to attend the poetry reading in heaven last night, because this fragile world lost one of the great ones.
I don’t remember a time growing up in Memphis in which I didn’t know who Maya Angelou was, reading her poems and excerpts of her work. Like many others, I read obituaries of Dr. Angelou yesterday in addition to lists of her most famous quotes as they were collected and as they were shared individually by friends on social media.
She was a woman who wrote more eloquently than most about the power and importance of love, forgiveness, diversity, perseverance, hard work, and faith. For a list of these quotes, I encourage you to go here.
Condoleezza Rice paid tribute with a simple statement, “”I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was one of the most inspirational books ever written in America — and Maya Angelou was a national treasure. She will be missed but not forgotten.” Many others joined in.
As for me, I returned to the poem that I will eternally view as synonymous with Maya Angelou. NPR played an audio recording of Dr. Angelou reading it herself to pay tribute to her. I encourage you to spend a few minutes to listen to it.
But I will also provide it here for you to read, appreciate, and enjoy.
Rest in peace, Dr. Angelou. And thank you, for everything.
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
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
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.