Thursday, May 1, 2014

A tale of two poems

Since I'm so terrible at keeping up a blog, I thought I'd publish something I didn't write.  These are the words of Maya Angelou's that I just discovered today -- yes just today -- and I can't believe I wasn't introduced to this poem sooner in life!  So without further adieu, here is Angelou's poem, "I Still Rise":

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.

I love this poem for it's earnestness and honesty.  I love the determination.  I love that the speaker addresses the ambiguous you.  While it's easy to see who she is writing to, I appreciate that it is not spiteful or bitter, but resolute.  The visual is beautiful, and the last three lines show the reader how determined she is to rise above challenges and obstacles.
This poem reminds me of another poem that came well before Angelou published this one, but it also deals with the theme of adversity -- however, the approach is different.  Take a look at Paul Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask".

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

This poem also deals with racial injustice from a bleaker standpoint.  The tongue-in-cheek frustration is very evident as the narrator doesn't see an end to the adversity that is being faced.  The fact that 'they' (we) feel a need to hide the true self behind a smile tears the narrator up inside.  The narrator is desperate to see a change but doesn't believe it will ever happen.  Yes, far more depressing than "I Will Rise," as Maya Angelou sees the animosity people show her, but sees it as a challenge to rise above.

I wish Maya and Paul could have met and compared notes.  That would have made for an excellent poem.