This is a key stanza in the first part of the poem because it shows the movement towards equality as something that is organic and that is going to happen regardless of an individual's reaction to it. The tide is not going to stop for anyone whatever effort they might make; the sun and the moon still rise and set on their own, not according to the desires of man. The speaker emphasizes that the oppressors' efforts to subdue her will be futile, as her success in rising above the pain is as certain as the cycles of nature.
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?
This is the first reference in the poem to the fact that the speaker is a female. She is treated more harshly because she is a woman and also shows the conflict within her male oppressors who find her attractive but may be angry about this. Their anger towards her may be fueled in part by the fact that she is attractive, as they resent her for being an object of lust when they are supposed to hate her. This is the first stanza where she is not presenting herself as an African-American person in the abstract, but specifically as a sensual black woman. The reference to the "diamonds at the meeting of my thighs" is the only overtly sexual reference in the poem.
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
These two lines are almost a shock when they appear, as the poem—although combative at times—has been relatively ambiguous regarding whom the poet sees as her oppressors, and what history has occurred between them. These lines clear up any ambiguity; by calling herself the "hope and the dream of the slave," Angelou is positioning herself as the representative of those African-Americans who lived through both segregation and the end of it. She is stating that as a free woman with choices, opportunities, and rights, she is the culmination of all of the hopes, dreams, and struggles of those who lived and died before her. The speaker affirms that she will "rise" above the pain and suffering of her ancestors and ensure that their struggles were not in vain.
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
The speaker refers to her race explicitly by comparing herself to a black ocean. As this quote appears near the end of the poem, one can say that by this point the speaker has established her strength as a powerful woman. This quote sums up that power by representing her as a force of nature—a vast ocean. By "welling and swelling," she parallels her intention to "rise" with the actual rising of the ocean's waves. She will rise higher and higher like the tides. The meaning of "bear" in this quote is that of holding oneself up: she holds herself strong as the tides ebb and flow, refusing to be knocked down. Similarly, she will not be knocked down by her oppressors.
Still I Rise Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Still I Rise is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.