Still I Rise

Still I Rise Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The speaker is Maya Angelou, as she is speaking from her own perspective and experiences as a black woman. She also addresses a third person who is not the reader and challenges him/them to answer her questions. She alternately interrogates and taunts the unspecified"you" in the poem, holding this person/people accountable for terrible actions while also proclaiming that she will overcome the challenges he/they have imposed.

Form and Meter

The poem is written in an A-B-C-B meter, until the last two stanzas when the meter becomes A-B-A-B.

Metaphors and Similes

The poet uses many similes and metaphors throughout the poem:

"But still, like air, I'll rise" (simile)—No matter what the speaker's oppressors do to harm her, she will rise above the challenges, just as air rises.

"But still, like dust, I'll rise" (simile)—As in the air simile, the speaker will rise above the pain her oppressors try to inflict, just as dust rises in the air.

"I walk like I've got oil wells" (simile)—The speaker is so confident in her demeanor that she walks with a swagger that suggests the wealth of a person who has struck oil.

"Just like moons and like suns" (simile)—The speaker compares the certainty of her courage and persistent determination to the certainty and repetitive patterns of the lunar and solar cycles.

"I laugh like I've got gold mines" (simile)—The speaker laughs with the confidence of someone who is wealthy, as if gold has been discovered in her own backyard. She may not be wealthy in a financial sense, but she possesses a great wealth of spirit and hope.

"You may trod me in the very dirt" (metaphor)—The speaker states that even if her oppressor tries to trample on her as one might trample an object or living creature in the dirt, she will still rise. The speaker is not literally squashed by the oppressor, but the oppressor nonetheless tries to trample on her spirit.

"You may shoot me with your words" (metaphor)—The speaker refers to the violence of shooting with a gun, but she uses the metaphor to illustrate instead the pain of her oppressor's hateful language. She will not be pierced by the harshness of his words.

"You may cut me with your eyes" (metaphor)—The speaker refers to violence again, this time using the example of cutting, as with a knife. However, she refers to the oppressor's cruel looks as so painful and hurtful that his regard is sharp and cutting, like a knife.

"You may kill me with your hatefulness" (metaphor)--The oppressor's hatefulness could literally kill her, but in this line the speaker speaks of death metaphorically. The oppressor's hate toward her might kill her spirit, but she will still rise above the pain.

"I'm a black ocean" (metaphor)—The speaker refers to herself as a powerful force of nature. She is as strong and as majestic as the ocean, and the term "black" denotes her race. She is a powerful black woman.

"I am the dream and the hope of the slave" (metaphor)—The speaker embodies the hopes and dreams of her slave ancestors. She wants to achieve all that they were unable to do.

"Did you want to see me broken" (metaphor)—The speaker refers to a broken spirit.

"Shoulders falling down like teardrops" (simile)—The speaker refers to being sad to the point that one's shoulders droop down or collapse, just as tears fall.

"Dance like I've got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs" (simile)—The speaker dances sensually and possesses a wealth of spirit, rather than financial wealth. The diamonds represent wealth, luxury, and status, like that of a queen. She is a black queen, and the placement of diamonds between the legs suggests a sexual connotation.

Alliteration and Assonance

"Dance like I've got diamonds" (alliteration)—The words beginning with the consonant "d" are examples of alliteration. The line rolls off the tongue when spoken aloud, suggesting the joy and ease of the speaker dancing.

"Bitter, twisted lies" (assonance)—The "i" vowel is repeated here, making the impact of the word "lies" even more powerful.

"Does my sassiness upset you" (alliteration)—The consonant "s" is repeated here, making the line very taunting.

"Does my sexiness upset you" (alliteration)--The consonant "s" is repeated here, making the line very taunting.

"Huts of history's shame" (alliteration)—The consonant "h" makes the line heavy in sound, like the meaning of the phrase.

"Welling and swelling" (assonance)—The letter "e" sound and the rhyme of the two words creates a powerful image of the speaker rising like an ocean's tides.


The poet's challenges to those she addresses are often ironic. One of these ironies is the fact that in trying to oppress her, the oppressors are actually giving her the strength and will to survive. For example, she tells them, "You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I'll rise." Treading her into the dirt is intended to stop her from moving forward. But it has the opposite effect, merely strengthening her resolve and making her rise higher than ever. The refrain "I rise" shows her continued resistance.


Autobiographical poetry, political poetry, feminist poetry, African-American poetry.


The setting is not mentioned, but one could assume that it is America in the 1970s after the end of segregation (based on Angelou's life).


Angry and triumphant, in that the speaker is angry at her oppressors but also has obvious pride in her identity as a powerful black woman. Challenging, in that she is questioning those who would try to deny her the right to succeed and become the person she is. Affirming as demonstrated by the repetition of the statement "I rise."

Protagonist and Antagonist

The speaker is the protagonist. The antagonist is unspecified, but he is/they are most likely white oppressors (and specifically, white males) who want to condemn her to the pain of her ancestors.

Major Conflict

There is an underlying conflict throughout the entire poem. The speaker is referring to the conflict between herself and the people in society who would like to see her tied to the past and are offended by her success/power. The conflict is with those who want to oppress her because she is an African-American woman.


The poem grows in power and builds toward a climax that ends at the eighth stanza. Before this stanza, the speaker interrogates the oppressor and describes her people's suffering. In stanza eight, the speaker has finished asking questions in anger and is instead proclaiming her intention to rise above the pain of the past. She repeats this intention with the refrain, "I rise."


The poet's promise to rise up despite anything that tries to block her foreshadows her intention to stand up to those who would oppress her because of race or gender. This foreshadows the continued efforts of the civil rights and feminist movements active today.


The poet refers to slavery as "history's shame" which may be considered an understatement. Slavery caused widespread suffering by tearing families apart and breaking the spirits of African people. Many people died as a result, and the Civil War resulted in even more casualties for both white and black people. Slavery changed the course of American—and even world-—history, and its effects can still be felt today with the prevalent racist attitudes that are found around the world.


The poet alludes to slavery and the slave trade at the end of the poem. The "huts of history's shame" likely refer to where slaves were housed, and the poet mentions slavery explicitly just once near the poem's conclusion.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

"History's shame" (metonymy)--This figure stands in for all those who conducted the slave trade and those who implemented policies that kept down certain elements of society by both gender and race.


"History's shame" personifies history and gives it the attribute of feeling an emotion like shame.


Some critics of the poem contend that the poet is using hyperbole by calling herself the culmination of all of the hopes and dreams of her slave ancestors. She represents black people as a race and black women, specifically.


No examples of onomatopoeia.