In a remarkable interview last year with NPR’s Diane Rehm, poet Maya Angelou recounts her life story, and remembers her unlettered grandmother as “Wisdom” personified. This is an interview I’ve assigned to my students, and it never fails to leave them, to leave us all, deeply moved. There is no other voice – the deep resonant music that bears a whole people’s history – quite like the voice of Maya Angelou.
It was my wife Lauri – a literature major during college and still a lover of great fiction – who introduced me to Maya Angelou’s poetry over twenty years ago, and I will ever be grateful. For me, she is the mouthpiece of Wisdom – God’s own promises of hope – rising from suffering and feminine strength on the wings of the poet’s breath.
We thank you, O God of Life, for the gift of Maya Angelou’s life and her courage, her audacity and sass, her witness to fierce love and forgiveness. May she rise this night to rest in the comfort – and wild joyfulness – of all the sinners and saints gathered round your welcome table!
Still I Rise – Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
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.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
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.
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?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.