The Spectator Resurrected...

Friday, March 31, 2006

Maya Angelou

Audre Lorde, in speaking about the experience of being a Black female poet explains why it is necessary to write even when her voice is not heard :

For women … poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It
forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams
toward survival and change, first made into language, then into ideas, then into
more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it
can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our
poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives ( “Poetry is not a
Luxury”, Sister Outsider
, 37)

Many African-American women like Lorde have suffered dual discrimination and domi-nation, that of both race and gender from those outside their culture and of gender from those within African-American society. Their voices have been silenced for generations; but throughout history some African-American women have overcome social and economic barriers to make themselves heard. Through poetry, African-American women . have preserved the voices of those who were not heard, have maintained the identities of those whose humanity was ignored or denied and have spoken the unspeakable about their lives. Among them, we have Maya Angelou who uses images and events both from her own life and from the history of humankind to give shape to universal experiences.Maya Angelou’s poems can be seen as ‘universalist’, rather than being simply feminist. Her poems display an essential humanness that transcends both race and gender as she herself proclaims: “I am human…and nothing human can be alien to me"(Shafer).


Going through her poems, I found that Alice Walker's term "Womanist" could be applied to some of her poems.To Walker, one is a ‘Womanist’ when one is ‘committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female... [a Womanist]…is not a separatist’ and is ‘traditionally universalist’( In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, xi). Thus Walker addresses the notion of the solidarity of humanity, a notion that is articulated in Angelou’s poetry too. Her poem, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," portrays one of her major themes: the hope of freedom in the midst of oppression. The poem tells the story of a free bird and a caged bird. The free bird calmly soars on "trade winds soft through the sighing trees" and even "dares to claim the sky." He gets to eat "fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn" and aspires to "name the sky his own." Unlike his free brother, the caged bird lives in imprisonment and is not able to fulfill his need to fly. Trapped with nowhere to roam, the bird can only raise his voice in protest. Appearing twice in the poem, this stanza serves as a refrain:

The caged bird sings
with 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. (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”)


Although he sings of "things unknown," his loud song of freedom is still heard "on the distant hill." He turns to the only thing that he can do, which is speak out in protest. Angelou knows why the caged bird sings, as well as the oppressed everywhere, and this is evident throughout her life experiences. Angelou uses poems such as this one to instill in her readers a sense of hope and strength that comes from voices lifted up. And by singing such songs, hope and strength will overcome defeated dreams. So, the caged bird instead of being the symbol of an oppressed black woman becomes her voice which unifies all humanity preserving it even in despair.