Critical Analysis of Maya Angelou Poems


Maya Angelou is one of the few celebrated women in the literary world. As an American poet, she uses her creativity to explore the innate nature of social evils, racial concerns as well as his position in society. In her works, she reflects on diverse social African-American features that have played a significant role in shaping her. Examining the content of his poems it’s instrumental that she touches on such issues as personal rejection as well as institutional racism. And this indicates why her poems embrace the diverse context of incidence and character of experiences. This gives them values, to a certain extent than being independent creations free of peripheral, experiential allusion. This is illustrated by her approach to life as is demonstrated in such works as I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Phenomenal Woman, and, Still, I Rise.


Still, I Rise is one of her sentimental pieces of literature that explores diverse aspects of life. Using situational ironies and symbolism she captures the mood of the social discontent and asserts: “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies, /You may tread me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I’ll rise” (Angelou 200). The critical and symbolic approach of the poet to life reflects her use of imagery to tell her story. Eventually, the symbolism of the poem stands out as an assurance to others not to give up despite the challenges. she states; “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” (Angelou 233).

The rhythm and the tempo of the poet illuminate the poet’s casual approach to racism and social discrimination. Considering her background this poem sheds light on the manner the society she lived in behaved. Her position as an African-American seems to assert that she was always questioned and monitored (Hagen 94). However, she loved herself for who she was. Examining the texture and the composition of the poem’s stanzas it would be imperative to state that this poem is well structured. This can be testified by the flow of her thoughts and tone.

In essence, this is an incredible poem regarding the woman rising above typecasts as well as going forward. Carefully, she exploits the literary tools such as symbolism and imagery to deliver her message through the use diverse sentence types, tone, suspense, and similes. In this she stresses the frustration she feels towards those who abused her. However, she asserts, “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” (Angelou 233).

Social Issues

Another piece of Maya’s engaging poetical composition is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Though, much of her popular poems draw much from her personal experiences. She has equally managed to develop great poetry, near complete simple lyrics, expressing in tough, often flashy rhythms, premises widespread to the life incidents of loads of American blacks such as intolerance, exploitation, and being on welfare.

Therefore, in her poem, I know why the Caged Bird Sings, she employs a unique concoction of symbolism and imagery to explore these issues decisively. Using simple but flowing prose, she exploits symbolism to explore the intricate hardships in her immediate community. This can be testified by the manner she reflects on the hardships she faced as a youth. Too, she touches on the evils of racism and this subsequently made her to almost hate herself for not being white. In the poem it is evident that the black American faced dire challenges from the whites. She symbolically employs a metaphor to assert,

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill/of things unknown but longed for still/and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom” (Angelou 109)

Examining this poem from a social scope it is evident that she was attempting to explore the manner the whites had enslaved the blacks to suit their social standards. This is illustrated, for instance, by the way she employs imagery and ironies to pass her message;

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams/his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream/his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing” (Angelou 109).

Eventually, the poem touches on other social aspects such as freedom, racial segregation and religious hypocrisy. This poem is a real representation of these injustices. Using irony she talks to her African-American audience to understand and equally feel the pangs of oppression. Too, examining the tone and the rhyme of the poem she seems to talk about two birds which symbolically depict the opposing human races, the free race and the enslaved race. Using metaphors in the entire poem the poem is equally a symbolic metaphor for the African-American communities.

Therefore, in this poem the caged bird can be construed as the black race being apprehended back from free will by their individual skin color. The free bird is the white race holding onto freedom and their repugnance to blacks.

The power of a Woman

Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman poem is formulated in free verse; it has no definite set or rhyme plan. The individual in this piece is illustrated as a strong, dedicated and confident woman. Established studies have over the time attempted to compare the author with the person described in the poem. Using imagery she attempts to cast light on the nature of her subject. She asserts: “I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size” (Angelou 251). This is also followed by a metaphor: “Then they swarm around me, / A hive of honey bees” (Angelou 251).

Examining the deep approach employed by the author the poem touches on the woman who is seen to be strong, a woman, who emerges from the conformist paradigms that enchains her domestic prototypes or artistic construct. Metaphors and repetition are exploited by the author to challenge the commonly-quoted axiom that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. In the conventional period of commodification, citizens are parallel to objects; they are evaluated on the nature of packaging and material value.

The further the entity is visually alluring, the further the assurance-factor. In such a perspective, Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman fronts a inquiry, as to what steers her so much of self-assurance, She retorts with unwavering confidence that she may possibly not be her endearing in the conformist sense (Lupton 19). Looking at the manner she engages her audience by using a string of imagery and symbolism presents a candid observation of racial engagement.

The public may possibly understand as to why the author walks erect. She needs not create deafening proclamations concerning her. Furthermore, she does not discover the want to opt to theatrical antics. Since, her very existence or passing rouses a feeling of self-importance to the bystander. Her individuality is exposed in the cadence of herself (‘the click of my heels’), the affection she radiates (the palm of her hand) in addition to the unavoidable care. That is the indispensable quintessence of a woman:

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me. (Angelou 233)

Works cited

Angelou, Maya. Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. NY: Random, 2000.

Hagen, Lyman. Writings of Maya Angelou.Lanham: UPA, 2002.

Lupton, Mary Jane. “Maya Angelou” in American Writers. NY: Scribner’s, 1999.

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