Still I Rise

Still I Rise Video

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Watch the illustrated video summary of the poem, Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou.

Originally published in 1978, “Still I Rise” is one of Maya Angelou’s most celebrated poems. Published as part of Angelou’s third poetry collection, the piece was written during a highly prolific time in the author’s career.

Angelou grew up in Missouri during the height of Jim Crow-era racism. She focused this poem on the power of hope in facing overwhelming adversity and oppression, particularly that which has impacted Black Americans since the dawn of slavery. Therefore, “Still I Rise” can be read as a celebration of Black joy and resilience in the face of hardship.

The poem is made up of nine stanzas and takes the form of a call and response, with the speaker addressing an unspecified oppressor in the second person throughout. The repetition of the word “you” seems to refer to both an embodied individual and the larger systems of white oppression built to target Black Americans, just as “I” seems to refer to both the speaker herself and the Black community as a whole.

Addressing her oppressor, the speaker declares her ability to “rise” above hatred and bigotry, which ranges from intentionally misrepresenting Black history to committing acts of physical violence. “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.”

This act of "rising” is described as timeless and eternal, a magic trick that she and her community will perform. They will continue to persist with the same constancy as the natural world: “Just like moons and like suns / With the certainty of tides,” or “like dust,” they will rise.

The speaker also asks her unspecified oppressor if her “sexiness [upsets them],” or if her” haughtiness [offends them],” as they seem disappointed that they cannot keep her down. She brags that you would think she has "oil wells pumping in [her] living room,” and “diamonds at the meeting of [her] thighs,” for all of the confidence she exudes. Despite the oppressor’s eagerness to see her “broken,” with “bowed head and lowered eyes,” she will carry herself with the confidence, or even cockiness, of a rich and attractive woman.

These alternating declarations of joy and rage culminate in the last two stanzas of the poem, wherein the speaker describes herself rising up from the shame and pain of slavery, describing herself as “the dream and the hope of the slave.”

Filled with hope for a new day, Angelou’s speaker closes the poem with the repetition of the two words that run triumphantly throughout it: “I rise / I rise / I rise.”