Maya Angelou’s Daring Declaration of Independence

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 5:00 am

Maya Angelou’s Daring Declaration of Independence

Maya Angelou did almost everything that can be done with words — writing poems, essays, memoirs, plays, movies, and TV shows — and did all of it beautifully.

“Still I Rise” is one of her best-known and best-loved poems — a personal, honest, feisty declaration of independence. Any time a human being speaks up to declare her identity and integrity, refusing to let others define her, it’s a cause for rejoicing as far as I’m concerned.

Maybe this is something some of us need to do more often than we do — declaring to whatever may be holding us down, “I rise, I rise, I rise.” If so, here’s inspiration!

“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 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.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

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  • Ivan Hestdahl

    Keep on keeping on spreading inspiration, mr Palmer. In these very troublesome times – much due to megalomaniac political leaders – we need the power, precision and eloquence of dearest Maya and her sisters and brothers.

  • valencia

    Considering the treatment of April Ryan, Maxine Waters, Susan Rice, this past week I imagined their voices and faces along with the video. Maya Angelou who shares her birthday of 04-04 with two important MLK’s events, as well as equal pay day calls us forward with hope and conviction believing in the promise of the struggle. I recall also the wonderful Delany Sisters of “Having our Say” they too embraced the same “I RISE” spirit. What a wonderful connection to stand on the shoulders of all our sisters, and to carry the baton to and for the next generation. Together we rise, united in one human family.

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