The first poet we have chosen to discuss for this topic Feminist Poetry is, Maya Angelou.
You can understand the reason, one of the best poets, one of the most popular poets, one of
the most remarkable women of twentieth century, born in 1928 and who died in 2008.
First, we will see the historical and Literary Context and then we will see her life briefly;
focusing on the two aspects which really made the woman self-esteemed and self-expression.
Discuss two poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise.” We will analyse them and then
finally give importance to two concepts self-acceptance and celebration, which are very
important for everybody, not only for woman.
(Refer Slide Time: 01:07)
Here we have the Historical and Literary Context. Maya Angelou was born in this time; The
Great Depression of 1929 and she had this opportunity of watching this Harlem Renaissance
in the 1920’s. The magazine of this Harlem Renaissance is called ‘Crisis,’ which promoted
African-American and their writings. Harlem Writers Guild was established in 1950 of which
Maya Angelou became a member later on.
She witnessed this Black Arts Movement and the magazine called Freedomways, published
in 1961 and continued upto 1985. Angelou had the chance of participating in this Civil Rights
Movement held from 1954 to 1968. In fact, Maya Angelou organised several activities f or
Malcom X and also for Martin Luther King. At this time, we also witness this anti-war
movement from 1964 to 1973. A culturally significant event took place when Robert Frost
read this ‘Inaugural poem’ in 1961 for President Kennedy.
We have this distinction between mainstream and African-American literature. This African-
American literature is represented by slave narratives and African-American narratives. We
have two autobiographies and two poems here; Booker T Washington’s autobiography, ‘Up
from Slavery’1901, Richard Wright’s autobiography ‘Black Boy’ in 1945. And two poems;
one called Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” and another one Georgia Douglas
Johnson’s poem, “The Heart of a Woman.” These two poems are important for Maya
Angelou because these two poems gave two titles for her famous autobiographies; ‘I Know
Why the Caged Birds Sings,’ from “Sympathy” and “The Heart of a Woman” from Johnson’s
(Refer Slide Time: 03:23)
Let us see the life of Maya Angelou now. She was born Marguerite Annie J ohnson but she
lived Maya Angelou throughout her life and she got this name Angelou from her first
husband’s surname Angelos. She dropped ‘S’ and added ‘U’ on the advice of her well-
wishers. She married twice but found her own ways in life. Her life was an incredible journey
from a muted woman to a vocal poet.
She joined forces with Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr during The Civil Rights
movement. She was a poet, auto biographer, essayist, performer, producer, and lecturer and
many other forms she took in her life. Maya Angelou, this MA can be understood as
motivation and achievement put together. She was motivated enough to achieve all that she
got in her life. We have a very important woman in her life, Mrs. Flowers who read some
passages from her library and turned this Marguerite into a poet.
Later one, when she was a popular woman, Mr. Clinton transformed her into a national poet
in 1993 by asking her to recite this poem, this inaugural poem “On the Pulse of Morning.”
Maya Angelou was a second poet after Robert Frost to have this privilege of reading an
inaugural poem, that is why we refer to Robert Frost earlier in the historical and literary
(Refer Slide Time: 05:09)
What motivated Maya Angelou to become the woman she became? Self Esteem and Self
Expression: these are the two keys to understand the personality of Maya Angelou. She had
some good mentors like James Baldwin and Robert Loomis, who challenged her to write her
own autobiography. Initially she started with I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings, in 1969.
Later on, she came out with many volumes about her own life. These were well received by
the public and the critics. She also wrote five volumes of poetry, “And Still I Rise” is the
third volume published in 1978, which has number of famous poems including the
“Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise.” These poems became much more popular when she
performed these poems on stage in front of audience. These are available on YouTube. Please
search for Maya Angelou and her poems. You will see the videos and you must watch Maya
Angelou’s performance to understand the spirit of the woman.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:28)
We have some background information for these poems “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I
Rise.” “Phenomenal Woman” is a dramatic poem; there is an address between a man and a
woman. It is written in the form of a free verse. We have four verse paragraphs and sixty
lines. This has a power which can be called recitative or mnemonic power and the whole
poem is all about feminist self-assertion.
The second poem, “Still I Rise” is lyrical. It is celebratory and self-assertive. It has 10
quatrains and also 3 other lines; that is why we call it 10 quatrains plus; we have the
celebration of the rise of women in this poem. The poem deals with the racial and gender
identity, how a woman could rise and rise in spite of all the odds against her.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:30)
First, we will deal with ‘Phenomenal Woman,’ we are not able to read the whole poem
because of copyright reasons. We have given the source to Poetry foundation. We can f ind
this poem in the text, Norton Anthology of poetry as well. This poem deals with the concept
of beauty. So, she describes the difference between beautiful woman and not so beautiful
woman. And how do these not so beautiful women get their power, that is the whole poem.
So, initially, we have this discussion on how beautiful woman may wonder about the secret
of power and success in the speaker and so she explains. She says, “I say, I say, I say” in this
poem. It is a kind of declaration. We find this declaration and assertion in all the four stanzas.
She says about her arms, hips, step, lips and all that. These are all her physical features which
have contributed to her strength. And so, she says,
“I am a woman
These four lines are a kind of refrain we find in all the four stanzas. ‘I say’ is repeated,
similarly ‘I am a woman phenomenally, phenomenal woman, that’s me;’ she repeats in all the
(Refer Slide Time: 08:59)
We have summarised one stanza here from lines 14 to 20. She talks about moving into a
room. When she moves into a room, she is surrounded by men “like a bee of hives.” That
means there is some attraction in her that is why men gather around her. And in the second
section that is from lines 30 to 36, she tries to explain some inner mystery in her but men
cannot understand it. Men cannot see it nor touch it; that is why she celebrates her difference,
her unique feature or her unique intelligence or whatever she has inside.
(Refer Slide Time: 09:40)
Then we come to the fourth stanza where in lines 52 to 56, she explains her mysterious
source of her power which is in her walk, in her hair, in her palm and in her care. She has
thus showcased the power of being a woman- a tall, skinny and gap-toothed black woman.
Actually, initially she was a bit upset about her own personality but later on, she overcame all
these difficulties of being a tall, skinny and gap-toothed woman, finally became a
phenomenal woman. And this could happen to any woman for that matter, that is why she
“Cause I am a woman,
(Refer Slide Time: 10:26)
Now, let us see the Thematic Contrast between unpretty women and pretty women. Pretty
woman feels happy about themselves and they wonder when unpretty women become
successful and the whole poem is a kind of explanation of a unpretty women to all pretty
women. There is a lie and also truth, a woman and man, ordinary and phenomenal, and outer
appearance and inner mystery. And this whole poem deals with that kind of inner mystery, of
course, through this outer appearance. This outer appearance is in the body and the inner
mystery is in the soul.
And this soul and this inner self has to exemplify that kind of self-respect. Omitting or
disregarding the self-suspect that maybe imposed on her and then only she can achieve
success and ward off failure in her life. This woman, ‘I’ is successful against ‘You,’ not only
men here she includes women also, beautiful women, who maybe a kind of hindrance for
unpretty women or ugly women. The whole poem is an assertion against discrimination and
oppression both by men and also by beautiful women. That is a beautiful aspect of this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 11:48)
We have a number of poetic devices in this poem, many words are repeated. Words, phrases,
lines, we refer to I say, and the refrain phenomenal woman. We have common words in the
whole poem; nothing is strange in this poem. The last four lines in each stanza are considered
to be refrain. And we have Assonance in these two lines:
“But when I start to tell them,
It’s in the click of my heels.”
We have highlighted those sounds which form this assonance. When that is ‘a’ and ‘in’ or ‘e,’
in the second line. We have alliteration in, “The stride of my steps.” Metaphor in, “Then they
swarm around me,’ ‘a hive of honey bees.” Again, we have another metaphor in; “Fire in my
eyes, Honeybee and sun.” We also have personification in “the joy in my feet.” She
concretises her joy which is found in her own feet. We have Anaphora “I say,” it begins the
declarations. Then we have Pun plus Metaphor in “The sun of my smile.” Maya Angelou had
a son even before she was married and this son was very precious for her. The Sun of my
smile could be this son and also the actual sun which gives light for all of us.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:32)
We have four stanzas in this poem, they are unequal in lines lengths but totally we have 60
lines. Some of them are short lines and some of them are as long as 6 syllables nothing more.
We have occasional rhymes in his poem.We have listed those words hips, lips, please, knees,
bees, teeth, feet, much, touch, smile, style. The rhythm we find in this extract we have here is,
I am an anapaest.
In the whole of the poem, we have many other kinds of rhythm as well like Trochee and
Spondee, therefore, we call this meter of this poem polymetrical. We have some enjambment
and end-stopped lines in this passage;
It’s in the click of my heels
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
the need for my care.”
If you watch Maya Angelou performing, you will see her jumping and moving and still rising
as a phenomenal woman.
(Refer Slide Time: 14:37)
To give an overall impression of this poem, Maya Angelou realised that she was a
phenomenal woman and proved it in her life and her writings, specially in this poem on
“Phenomenal Woman.” She understood what she could achieve with her physical f eatures;
arms, hips, lips, eyes, teeth, waist, feet, back, breasts, smile, style, heels, hair, hand, and care.
In this context we may refer to Lupita Nyong’o’s speech “Essence of Beauty.” This is also
available on YouTube please watch it and compare the twos. That is, one is a poem; another
is an actual speech. The Essence of Beauty is inside not outside. Maya Angelou became a
singer, a dancer, an actor, a writer, a reporter, an editor, a manager, a secretary, an organiser
and many more roles she played in her life, although she was unpretty, skinny, tall, gap-
Being a woman or a black woman or a poor woman is not a limitation. It is an opportunity to
transform oneself into a great human being, a phenomenal woman. As a phenomenal poet,
she has mastered the art of poetry by using language poetically through the poetic devices
and the rhythmic devices we have in this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 16:05)
Let us see the second poem now, ‘Still I Rise.’ Again, we are not able to read the whole poem
for copyright reasons. We have given the link here. You can again see the same poem in our
“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.”
(Refer Slide Time: 16:32)
We have some summary of this poem here; fears and terrors are there to be overcome not to
be afraid of really. The daybreak is an inspiration for the poet to rise again and again every
day. She transmutes herself into a symbol of hope for her whole race, even for all kind s of
marginalised people. And that is why she says,
“I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
(Refer Slide Time: 17:04)
We have the Thematic contrast between rise and fall, truth and lie, courage and cowa rdice,
riches and poverty, black and white, glory and shame, love and hate, fear and hope, slavery
and freedom, dream and reality. These are gaps, it is for the individual to bridge the gap. The
moment you fall, if you accept your fall, you cannot do anything. With every fall, one has to
rise; that is what Maya Angelou has done in her life and that is why she has written this
poem. Whatever may happen to me, still I will rise.
(Refer Slide Time: 17:45)
We can see some poetic devices in this poem, Catechism is the most dominant one in this
poem, that means a list of questions and answers. Maya Angelou asks questions and then
gives answers. These questions are addressed to men, people in power and then she responds
to these questions as a woman with some sense of power. That is why we refer to these
voices, male and female voices. The question is like this, did you want me to be broken?
Answer is, butstill like air, I will rise. This is only one question and answer we have many
like this in the poem. Then we have a Simile;
“Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides.
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I ‘ll rise.”
Then metaphor; ‘you may shoot me with your words.’ Words are like bullets and this
communication of speech is like shooting between a man and a woman. That is why kind
words can save people, harsh words can kill people, particularly people in difficult situations.
We have this memorable image of the Phoenix at the background always rising. We have one
specific rhetorical figure called Tricolon that is repetition of “I rise, I rise, I rise” at the end,
(Refer Slide Time: 19:18)
Let us see the rhyme, rhythm and meter in this poem. We have some occasional rhymes in
these 43 lines. Some of the words are lies, rise; gloom, room; eyes, cries; hard, backyard;
wide, tide; fear, clear; gave, slave. The word rise is repeated 10 times in this poem adding
power to this rising feeling of the poet and the speaker. On the whole we can say, the poem
has Iambic tetra meter or Trochaic tri meter. But this is a combination. We have Caesura,
enjambment and end-stopped lines in,
“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.”
We are shown this enjambment with that arrow mark and indicated the number of syllables
feet in brackets. In the second line you have here, we have some extra syllable, that is why
we have put it 3 plus.
(Refer Slide Time: 20:20)
To give an overall impression, rising against odds is the key to achievement for all the
oppressed and marginalised people. No historical lies and oppressed situations will prevent
the speaker from rising. She will rise like the sun, the moon, the tides; whatever the days and
seasons may be. No insult, no shame, and no hate can put her down. She has plenty of pride,
courage, confidence and wealth to rise out of her slavery. The speaker actively engages with
the oppressor in a catechistic style of question and answer. The poem adds power with the tri
and tetra meter in various measures like iamb and trochee and anapest.
(Refer Slide Time: 21:05)
Now, let us have the summary of this discussion. We discussed the historical and literary
context in which Maya Angelou lived and wrote her poems. She was able to imbibe all kinds
of self-esteem and self-expression in her poetry, in her autobiography and write famous
poems like “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise.” We were not able to read the two poems
fully because of copyright reasons and we have given the links for you and you can collect
the poems and read them yourself. We emphasised self-acceptance and celebration in the
discussion of these two poems.
First of all, we have to accept what we are, who we are, where we are, why we are here like
this and then we can find causes for celebration. There is no life without limitations but every
life has enough opportunities for overcoming these limitations. Let us rise and become
(Refer Slide Time: 22:14)
Here are some references. Hope you will further see many such references and help yourself.
Thank you.Hello, we are going to deal with the poetry of Adrienne Rich with specific reference to one of
our well-known poems “The Phenomenology of Anger.” First, we will look into the historical
and literary context, then briefly see her life, then examine a theory of Revisionism which is
close to the heart of Adrienne Rich. Then read some selections from “The Phenomenology of
Anger,” analyse the poem, and then deal with three topics- Feminist Consciousness Raising,
A Visual Reading, and A Phenomenological Reading of this poem called “The
Phenomenology of Anger.”
(Refer Slide Time: 00:57)
Let us see the Historical and Literary Context. The second part of the twentieth century in the
US was dominated by what is known as this Vietnam War. The US was involved in this long
drawn, heavy causalities war called Vietnam War. Something like 20 years and because of
this long war and because of this heavy causalities people affected by different sections were
protesting against the US war policies. And at this time, this particular war exposed the
inadequacy of the US Army capabilities.
Considered to be one of the best Armies in the world, it could not tackle the problem of
Vietnam within a short time, 20 year is not a short time. At the same time, we have the
Second Wave of Feminism in the 1960’s and 80’s. What happened was, some women
employed in government or organisations, they began to lose their jobs and began to be
confined to home and that created some kind of un-rest among women and also it led to the
solidarity among women in the US. They began to establish their own positive images in
public discourse. Betty Freidan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique” demystified the women’s
pictures presented by the media, the society. And it changed the perceptions and portrayals of
women in life.
(Refer Slide Time: 02:30)
Adrienne Rich was a girl born into a conventional family and she had good education. In her
initial life, she ventured as a conventional modernist poet in 1951. But later on, she went
through a broken marriage after three children and that is where she was able to gain lot of
experience and emerge as a radical feminist poet and also activist. In fact, she led the Second
Wave of Feminism in the US along with other prominent women activist of the time,
particularly Alice Walker and Audre Lord. She played a key role in the anti-war movement
that is Vietnam War and many other wars actually.
She advocated “lesbian continuum” and sisterhood. That means, there is a kind of different
levels of relationship between people, particularly women and they should build up that kind
of network, so that they can help each other. In her life, she examined the issues of social
injustice, identity and sexuality, dedicated herself to the humanity through her poetry and
prose. She started revising the social myths of women and men. And salvaged the wrecked
women and built a new tradition in poetry and American culture.
(Refer Slide Time: 03:49)
This is what we have about Adrienne Rich’s Re-Visionism which is close to her heart. It is
not just having a vision but a revision. What does it mean?
“It is an act of looking back of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering
an old text from a new critical direction which is for us more than a
chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival... And this drive
to self-knowledge, for woman, is more than a search for identity:
it is part of her refusal of the self-destructiveness of male
What Adrienne Rich tries to emphasise through this extract is, seeing and seeing with critical
eyes, seeing with fresh eyes, being able to survive in this world with self knowledge and
more than self identity as a woman.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:42)
The passage actually continues. According to Adrienne Rich, the Re-vision is,
“A radical critique of literature, feminist in its impulse,
would take the work first of all as a clue to how we live,
how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine
ourselves, and how our language has trapped us, as well as
liberated us; and how we can begin to see and therefore
live-afresh... We need to know the writing of the past,
and know it differently than we have ever known it;
not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us.
She was committed to this kind Re-visionism throughout her life. She closely examined how
language traps woman and men into a kind of conventional way of life. This new vision she
expected to bring about changes in language as well.
(Refer Slide Time: 05:37)
Let us see some selections from this poem “The Phenomenology of Anger.”
“The freedom of the wholly mad
to smear & play with her madness
write with her fingers dipped in it
the length of a room
which is not, of course, the freedom 5
you have, walking on Broadway
to stop & turn back or go on
10 blocks, 20 blocks
but feels enviable maybe
to the compromised
curled in the placenta of the real 10
which was to feed and which is strangling her.”
We can see some crucial images used in this poem regarding these fingers dipped in and
curled in the placenta with reference to freedom.
(Refer Slide Time: 06:19)
Here we have another extract,
“White light splits the room.
Table. Window. Lampshade. You 35
My hands, stick in a new way.
seeming to leak from your side.
Will the judges try to tell me
which was the blood of whom?” 40
Specifically, Rich focuses on female experiences of this broken life, table, window,
lampshade, you that division she is able to see and then asks a rhetorical question ‘will the
judges try to tell me which was the blood of whom?’
(Refer Slide Time: 06:55)
Not enough. When I dream of meeting
the enemy, this is my dream
ripples from my body 60
on the true enemy
raking his body down to the thread
of existence 65
burning away his lie
leaving him in a new
world; a changed
Here again we have a violent metaphor in this acetylene, a gas used for violent purposes in
army and also it is used for welding and all that. Now, at the end of this burning of a woman
that she imagines, she has a new vision of a man for her.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:38)
One more extract, here we have the powerful voice of Adrienne Rich against man;
“I hate you.
I hate the mask you wear, your eyes
assuming a depth 80
they do not possess, drawing me
into the grotto of your skull,
the landscape of bone.
I hate your words
they make me think of fake 85
crisp imitation parchment
they sell at battlefields.”
Here again we can see a powerful metaphor, words connecting with this ‘crisp imitation
parchment.’ What she hates is this masking of men and women particularly men?
(Refer Slide Time: 08:16)
“The only real love I have ever felt
was for children and other women. 110
Everything else was lust, pity,
self-hatred, pity, lust.
This is a woman’s confession.
Now, look again at the face
of Boticelli’s Venus, Kali, 115
the Judith of Chartres
with her so-called smile.”
(Refer Slide Time: 08:35)
Here we have the last extract,
the whole way,
staring holes of fire into the air,
others plan rebellion; 130
night after night
awake in prison, my mind
licked at the mattress like a flame
till the cellblock went up roaring.
Thoreau setting fire to the woods 135
Every act of becoming conscious
(it says here in this book)
is an unnatural act.” 138
This unnatural act of becoming conscious, becoming aware was a whole lifetime mission of
(Refer Slide Time: 09:11)
Let us see the Thematic Contrast between anger and equanimity, freedom and slavery,
normality and madness, friend and enemy, truth and lie, love and hate, original and imitation,
obedience and rebellion, conscious and unconscious, natural and unnatural. This is a kind of
awareness that Adrienne Rich brings about in the readers, specifically women to arise f rom
this lie, from this so-called madness, from this normal life, from this unconscious life.That is
why she wants to unravel the lie and show the truth to both men and women.
(Refer Slide Time: 09:55)
A number of poetic devices can be found in this poem. We refer to many of them, let us look
at them now specifically. First, we have this rhetorical question, “Will the judges try to tell
me which was the blood of whom?” Judges usually men and then we have this metaphor,
‘acetylene,’ the gas that destroys people and objects. Anaphora we have in three lines, 79, 80,
and 84; “I hate you, I hate your mask, I hate your words, I hate your eyes assuming a depth
which you do not possess.” Then we have another metaphor here;
they make me think of fake
crisp imitation parchment
they sell at battlefields.”
This kind of war consciousness is always there in her and words are imitations, they are not
originals, they do not have meaning, they do not have sense, they tell lies. That is why she
hates words;she hates this patriarchal language which suppresses truth.
Then we have a very interesting case of Chiasmus in these two lines; “everything else was
lust, pity, self-hatred, pity and lust.” The kind of reversal that she wants to bring about in
society can be easily seen through this kind of Chiasmic structure that she brings into her
poem. Lastly, we have a Smile, ‘my mind licked at the mattress like a flame.’ Mind becoming
like fire and catching fire and creating distraction for renewal of life, that is what Adrienne
Rich tries to do in this particular poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 11:36)
Now let us examine Rhyme, Rhythm and Meter in this poem. There is no fixed rhyme
actually in this poem. Some unusual initial rhyme can be seen in three words, raking,
burning, leaving in line 64, 66, and 67. We have line length which varies from one syllable to
ten syllables and the rhythm is dynamic through variation in line length. We have again many
different metrical patterns; tetra, penta, mono, di, tri; everything is there. In some cases, we
have extra syllables as well. So, we can say this poem has metrical patterns, so we call it
polimetrical. We have Caesura, Enjambment and End-stopped lines; one example is there,
“The only real love I have ever felt
was for children and other women.
Everything else was lust, pity,
self-hatred, pity, lust. (109-112)
Generally, we can say that this poem has iambic and trochaic measure.
(Refer Slide Time: 12:41)
To give an overall impression of this poem, let us see these points. This poem is obviously a
feminist poem with a difference. It expresses anger about the atrocities of men against
women and also suggest ways to overcome the oppression with a female bonding. The poet
identifies the male language as a serious problem of experience and expression.
Hence, she uses it to subvert the male dominance by incorporating female experience of
togetherness, understanding, appreciation not only among women but also with children and
the larger oppressed humanity. Her aim of consciousness raising is perfectly achieved with
the unnatural act of becoming conscious of rebellion and the womanistic retribution. The
anger, the revenge that she has expressed in this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:34)
Let us focus on this feminist consciousness raising which is important for Adrienne Rich and
many other feminists of her times. It means expanding awareness of ourselves and also in
relation to others and the world at large. It involves self-reflection and self-awareness, that
means we ask questions about what is happening inside us and others and then we become
aware of our own feelings and for this to happen, we have to ask questions about self, that is
where we have this self-examination. Here we can quote Socrates famous statement, “The
unexamined life is not worth living.”
Adrienne Rich is a Feminist but we are quoting a man’s words to support her. This further
implies some kind of meditation, mindfulness which is at the heart of poetry that is why we
say ‘poetry leads to self-awareness.’ For Adrienne Rich, she has said ‘poetry is a survival tool
for her’ and this kind of awareness is raised through meetings, debates, discussions,
demonstrations which she held throughout her life.
(Refer Slide Time: 14:49)
We have a special focus on this Male and Female language in this poem and we have a lso a
quotation from another poem called “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children.” Because
Rich considers language a weapon. She says, “This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it
to talk to you” From this poem The Burning of Paper instead of Children.
A feminist critique Mary Gentile has something to say on language, we have quoted her here,
“If I learn to express my experience as a woman in its entirety,
in its physicality, in its complexity, without self- censorship,
without employing eternally imposed categories and evaluations
and with the conviction that my experience is valid
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