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 poetry. 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 (Angelou 11). 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 1983.
Gilbert, Sandra M. ? Maya Angelou.? Poetry. August 1976.
Williams, Scott. Biography: Maya Angelou. Online. America Online. 15 March 1998.
Poetry and Poets