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Maya Angelou, Essay Example

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Essay

“Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Diiie” (Angelou). Maya Angelou is one of America’s greatest poets and storytellers. Born into a life of turmoil and disappointments, Angelou was raised by her grandmother after the divorce of her parents, raped by her mother’s boyfriend and lived in constant boundaries of what it meant to be African American in the early 1930s. Maya Angelou later used her writing skills as a means to express her frustrations and disdain as well as her triumphs and resiliency through autobiographies and poetic works. Angelou, influenced by the compositions of the King James Bible, William Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe, often allows her works to not only reflect the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of her own soul but to also represent the words of those who have no platform to be heard (Achievement).

Style

Maya Angelou’s poetic style is a window into her soul. Her use of poetic freedom, ingenuousness and revelations are directly influenced by the fears of her past. After being raped by her mother’s boyfriend, Angelou only felt comfortable sharing this information with her brother. Shortly afterwards, her attacker was found murdered. Maya, believing this to be her fault, feel silent for the next five years (Achievement). Maya began to speak again at the age of 13 and has never been silent again. Angelou uses her platform to speak with fervor and cleverness through creative rhymes, heartfelt rhythm and poignant expressions.

Theme

Thematic development serves as a prominent and critical role in Angelou’s poetry. Her lack of chronological order, well designed lyrics and innovative comparisons enhances the poetic implications, yet, focuses on the anguish and injustice of African Americans, women and children. Angelou’s thematic scheme is reflected in what has been deemed as one of Angelou’s greatest works, Phenomenal Woman. The poem not only speaks to her confidence and insightfulness but also to the affirmation to women of their inner-beauty, magnitude and personal contribution (Achievement). Here is an excerpt from the poem:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Rhythm and Rhyme

The unstructured use of line length is characteristic of Angelou’s poetry. By using short lyrics with jazzy rhythms and soulful overtones, Angelou is able to develop a variety of poetic styles and limited syllables in order to emphasize certain points and phrases in her work. In addition to line lengths, Angelou also uses repetition to create tempo and progression of rhymes and message. Each of these elements is present in this excerpt of her poem Still I Rise: 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.

Visual/Spatial Elements

In Angelou’s 2003 poem Passing Time, Angelou uses space to represent the transformation of time, distinction and the prediction of future roles regarding “skin” or ethnicity (insinuated):

Your skin like dawn
Mine like musk
One paints the beginning
of a certain end.
The other, the end of a
sure beginning.

While spatial elements are not as prevalent in Angelou’s works, visual elements such as metaphors are a commonplace as seen in this line from her poem Phenomenal Woman: “Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees” (Angelou). Imagery is used in her poetry and novels as a means to provide readers with a clear perception of the events taking place in the work as well as the personality and distinguishing qualities of the characters. An example of this characterization can be found in this excerpt of Maya Angelou’s poem Men:

They knew I was there. Fifteen
Years old and starving for them (men).
Under my window, they would pause,
Their shoulders high like the
Breasts of a young girl,
Jacket tails slapping over
Those behinds,
Men.

References

Academy of Achievement. Maya Angelou. Washington D.C.: Museum of Living History, 2011. Web. 28 June 2011. <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/ang0bio-1>.

Angelou, Maya. Maya Angelou Poems. New York: Batham Books, 1989. Print.

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