Still I Rise

Still I Rise Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Oil wells (symbol)

In the second stanza, the speaker makes the poem’s first reference to a symbol for wealth. She describes her confident manner of walking as what one might expect from someone who has “oil wells” pumping in her home. The speaker is suggesting that she is rich and powerful—not in a monetary sense, but rather in spirit. Her wealth of courage and determination make her untouchable and give her control over her life, just as a rich person with oil wells presumably has enough money to live as he or she pleases.

Gold mines (symbol)

In the fifth stanza, the speaker makes the poem’s second reference to a symbol of wealth. This time, she describes her proud attitude, which may even be interpreted as arrogance. Once again, she is so full of pride and confidence that her carefree laugh suggests that she has gold mines in her own backyard. Like the oil wells, the gold mines represent not just wealth, but perpetual wealth—the oil keeps pouring out of the wells, and the gold keeps coming out of the mines. She does not have a fixed amount of wealth (courage, determination)—it is limitless. Like a gold mine or oil well, she is the actual source.

Diamonds (symbol)

In the seventh stanza, the speaker makes the poem’s last reference to a symbol of wealth. In this provocative stanza, she describes her liberated spirit. When she dances, one might say that she has “diamonds” at the meeting of her thighs. Again, the diamonds represent wealth and power, but they may also represent beauty and even sexuality. It is a cliché that women love diamonds, and the jewel is often considered a sign of royalty. However, rather than wearing the diamonds as a necklace or a crown, they are interestingly portrayed between her legs. This choice of language suggests a sexual connotation, implying that she is not only a beautiful woman but a sensual one—her diamonds represent her sexual prowess.

Natural elements (motif)

In the third stanza, the speaker refers to natural elements such as the moon, the suns, and the tides when speaking of the certainty of her determination. Just as the moon and sun rise and set, her courage will persist in a repetitive cycle. Her courage and determination are as inevitable as the passage of time, as marked by the lunar and solar cycles and the natural ebb and flow of the tides. References to tides and the ocean in the eighth stanza also indicate the speaker’s strength. She is as powerful as a deep ocean, and she is strong enough to resist being knocked over by the tide—or knocked down by her oppressors.

Rising (motif)

The poem’s central theme of rising refers to overcoming challenges. While the speaker sometimes refers to the word metaphorically, as in the first stanza (rising “like dust”), the main message is that she will rise above her oppressors. She will not let them hold her down, and she will overcome the painful past of her ancestors.