Maya Angelou - The Person and Poet
Maya Angelou is a very triumphant woman. She has written many
books and poems that have given her great success. If one would talk
to her, he or she would think she has lead a normal, happy life. Her
life is blissful now, but it wasn't always perfect. Maya Angelou's
sorrowful life experiences inspired her to write autobiographical
works of poetry.
Maya Angelou was born April 4, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St.
Louis. She was raised in segregated rural Arkansas. She came from a
broken home. Angelou was raped at eight, and was an unwed mother at 16
years old (Williams 1). In spite of her tragic childhood, she still
managed to become one of the greatest black poets of the twentieth
century (Williams 1).
Angelou is a poet, an author, a historian, an actress, a
playwright, a civil-rights activist, a producer, and a director. Ms.
Angelou began her career in drama and dance, and she married a South
African freedom fighter and lived in Cairo. Later she also taught in
Ghana. In the 1960's she said that being black, female, non-Muslim,
non-Arab, six foot tall, and American made for some interesting
experiences during her stay in Africa (Williams 1).
Ms. Angelou accomplished many things in her life. She was the
northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She was also appointed
to the Bicentennial Commission by President Gerald Ford, the National
Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year by Jimmy
Carter, and in 1993 she wrote and delivered the presidential
inauguration for President Bill Clinton.
Maya Angelou is a decorated author. She has been nominated for
two Emmy awards and has won a Pulitzer Prize. She is also a highly
cultured person. She can speak English, French, Spanish, Italian, and
West African Fanti. And many of her poems can inspire people today.
Knowing something about Angelou's life can help one to understand her
In one of Angelou's poems, "Unmeasured Tempo", she talks about a
person's life. How mind and body do not reach their apex at the same
time. By the time a person gets old enough to have a spiritual
realization of who they are their body is already declining (Angelou
11). This poem is written in blank verse. It does not have any rhyme
or rhythm. Yet it does use figurative language. For example, the
simile, "Dreams are petted like cherished lap dogs". This poem is
complex and makes the reader look for the deeper meaning in the poem
Another one of Angelou's poems is "Little Girl Speakings" where
she once again writes autobiographically. It's a comparative poem
about the things important to Angelou in her childhood. She is
explaining to one of her peers that she has the best parents and the
best toys(Angelou 65). There are a lot of literary devices used in
this poem. The two most obvious ones are slang and repetition. The
phrases "Ain't nobody better's my daddy", "Ain't nothing prettier'n my
dollie", and "No lady cookinger than my mommy" are repeated in this
poem (Angelou 65). The rhyme scheme, ABBA, is simple yet unusual.
There are many words that rhyme like quauter and daughter, said and
head, and pie and lie (Angelou 65).
A third and final poem of Angelou's is " Avec Merci, Mother"
("avec" means "with" in French). This poem uses very simple language,
but it is very complicated. The subject seems to change in the middle
of the poem. She first talks about her mother being this perfect
beauty who was polite and adored. And then it talks about a person
who catches her eyes who seems to be her son and then she associates
him with his father. This poem is one of Angelou's more difficult
works to understand (Angelou 18). This poem doesn't have a lot of
literary devices. The rhyme scheme of this poem is ABABCDED. Angelou
uses literary devises like similes in the phrase, "He's so much like
his daddy when he cries" (Angelou 18).
The style of Maya Angelou can range from complex symbolical ideas
to easy, straightforward concepts. Firstly, her style is like a
story. Second, the vocabulary is usually easy to understand, and not
too complicated. And, her works are not always conventional:
sometimes she writes in normal four line stanzas with rhyme and rhythm
and sometimes she does not. Also, she is very honest, open, and she
shows her emotions. All types of emotions are portrayed in her work.
There are a lot of positive things about Angelou's style, but
there are also some negative things. Sometimes it is hard to follow
what she is saying unless the story about her life is known.
Sometimes she does no use grammar well like in "Little Girl
Speakings". Although it is interesting it might confuse the reader.
Maya Angelou's works are enjoyable and interesting because they
have a nice rhyme to it and they read like a story or a song. But, as
one critic put it, some of her works are "simply corny" (Gilbert 296).
Angelou's poetry is for an older audience and is difficult for a
teenager to comprehend. She is not very wordy and does not complete
her thoughts sometimes. Also, the idea's in her poetry can be boring
and might not hold the readers attention.
Maya Angelou has survived many hardships. She remembers the good
times and the bad and wrote about them both. And today she is one of
the most acclaimed female black authors in history. Maya Angelou's sad
life experiences inspired her to write works of poetry about herself.
Angelou, Maya. Oh Pray My Wings Are Going To Fit Me Well. New
York: Random House, 1975.
Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? New York: Random House
Gilbert, Sandra M. " Maya Angelou." Poetry. August 1976.
Williams, Scott. Biography: Maya Angelou. Online. America
Online. 15 March 1998.