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STILL I RISE by Maya Angelou


Last night I had the privilege of listening to Maya Angelou speak live on the value of poetry at the University of Florida…

I was relieved to get one of the last seats available for this rare event, having arrived at five for Maya Angelou’s free speech at eight. The historically long line began with people settled into beach chairs in winter coats busying themselves on tablets, or eating sandwiches for dinner.

As helicopters hovered above and newscasters below, I felt the excitement of realizing that thousands of people were gathering together to hear an eighty four year old black woman recite her poetry!

Maya Angelou speaking at University of Florida on Feb. 27, 2013 
When the curtain rose -after an overflow of hundreds were sent away- we lucky ones on the inside greeted Maya with a standing ovation, as she smiled sweetly, beginning her talk using metaphors from nature. Maya asked that we all become like “rainbows” to those parts of the world that are “in the clouds”, emphasizing the importance of supporting each other, and giving each other hope. And when we can’t find that support on the outside, she said, there’s always poetry.

 “Memorize your favorite poems!” Maya stated enthusiastically.
 “Keep them inside you. That way you can still use them when your technology goes out.” 

Her uncle had taught her to memorize poetry when she was only three. And she emphasized this usefulness of poems, as powerful companions that carry us through life when we feel alone. Swords that cut through adversity.

For ten years of her childhood, after enduring a tragic trauma, Maya did not speak. She feared the power of her own voice, which she had misidentified as a destructive force at the young age of seven. But we are “neither devils, nor divine” she said, instead we are “rainbows”; a symbol she returned to throughout the evening, defining it as a person of generous heart above all else, emphatically stating:

 “When you get, give
And when you learn, teach!”

There is no place for fearful muteness in this world. The rainbow metaphor alluded to each of us being made of beauty and light, and full of bright voices to share. We are, essentially, gifts! That was most important, she said, to share our voices, to share our poems. 

And at that, Maya Angelou treated us with many of her poems, which she recited from memory. And those of poets she loved –like Paul Laurence Dunbar- whose line “I know why the caged bird sings” from his ‘Sympathy’ poem became the title for her famous autobiography, which I read as a schoolgirl. For there are little parts of each of us that feel caged sometimes, but even so, we should never stop singing. And when we feel pushed down, we need to remember that we can always rise.
~Photograph 'Prophetic Rays' by Katarina Silva~

Still I Rise

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
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
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


(To hear Maya Angelou recite her poem 'Still I Rise" click in arrow) 




Catherine Ghosh (Krishna Kanta Dasi)  has been an active practitioner and student in the Bhakti Yoga tradition for the last twenty-seven years. She is co-founder of The SecretYoga Institute, together with Graham M. Schweig, PhD, and develops teaching materials for yoga workshops. Her meditation videos have been shown at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and she serves as a contributing editor for Integral Yoga Magazine, where she regularly writes a column presenting yoga from multicultural angles. Krishna Kanta has entered into interfaith dialogues for the last twelve years, and this poetry blog is her latest project in that effort. A naturalist at heart, she lives in a rural setting delighting in the mothering of her two teenage sons, painting, quilting and writing poetry, among other artistic activities. You may connect with her on FaceBook, or email her at catherine@secretyoga.com

~If you are interested in seeing your poetry appear in this blog, or submitting a poem by a woman that has inspired you, please click here for submission guidelines. I greatly look forward to hearing from you!~ 

Comments

  1. Loved this post! I learned some new things about Maya Angelou and I loved the poem. Very inspiring!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jessica. She is indeed a most inspiring woman! I feel lucky to have hard her speak. :)

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing this Catherine! I cried tears of joy and my Spirit leapt for the blessed interconnectedness of us all when we allow poetry to flow through our Soul. Thank you - so blessed to know you!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing, Mary. I actually thought of you when I was there as some of her childhood experiences echoed yours. I felt you there is spirit with me. There is indeed an inspiring interconnectedness that feeds all our singing, poetic hearts! I feel blessed to know you too. :)

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