Today is Maya Angelou‘s 90th birthday. Google is paying tribute to her big contributions to American literature and human rights advocacy by depicting some doodled stories.
Maya Angelou caught my attention when I read her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings .This was vivid and memorable because its sensitive contents staggered me so much that I even nattered to my friends about it. She recalled in this book about her miserable experience during her early years until she became a mother at the age of 16. This is all about identity, racism, and rape, so the feeling was so sinking that I wanted to get it off my chest. Besides, I admire her dedication to educating herself and her love for literature.
I got more thrill when it happened to be my Korean high school students’ homework. It turned out to be part of their literary studies. I was absolutely delighted that I wanted to discuss it in my class. Alas, I still didn’t have my own blog to review it at that time.
I have some favorite lines and snippets in this book:
“As I ate she began the first of what we later called “my lessons in living.” She said that I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and even more intelligent than college professors. She encouraged me to listen carefully to what country people called mother wit. That in those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“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.”
“To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflict than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.”
“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.
There is a story in the book about this line that I cried for young Maya Angelou and gasped for breath.
“Without willing it, I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware. And the worst part of my awareness was that I didn’t know what I was aware of. I knew I knew very little, but I was certain that the things I had yet to learn wouldn’t be taught to me at George Washington High School. ”
“In order to avoid this bitter end, we would all have to be born again, and born with the knowledge of alternatives…”
Most of the lines above exude an air of resiliency. That was Maya Angelou, an epitome of a strong woman, not for Blacks but also for all women trampled underfoot.
Maya Angelou was a remarkable poet. Her poems are reflective of her horrible experience during the American slavery. One of her poems with which I am now familiar is her Still I Rise. I read this poem when a famous Filipino transgender activist chanted it against her detractors.
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
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.
This poem always holds me in awe. I am in awe of Maya Angelou. I am speechless again! This is wonderful. I really love it.
Unfathomable it may seem but if you read between the lines, especially if you read her background- but I believe I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a rich seam of that knowledge- you will marvel at the intensity and deepness of her emotions.
Until now I have still been hunting for her books. They are a rarity in book stores. No doubt I still keep my own copy of her autobiography with gloves. When I get a chance to read her other book, I am sure that I will have to get myself ready with a hankie. Probably, I will gasp for breath again , or even worse , will be convulsed with anger.