I rise, I am the dream and the hope of the slave – Maya Angelou

Published: May 30, 2014
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Through her poetical works, Angelou expressed her profound feelings, intelligence, humour, audacity and elegance. PHOTO: REUTERS

Through her poetical works, Angelou expressed her profound feelings, intelligence, humour, audacity and elegance. PHOTO: REUTERS Through her poetical works, Angelou expressed her profound feelings, intelligence, humour, audacity and elegance. PHOTO: REUTERS Through her poetical works, Angelou expressed her profound feelings, intelligence, humour, audacity and elegance. PHOTO: REUTERS

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

A great soul has left us. Everyone is saddened by the passing of one of the most celebrated poet, writer, teacher, artist, dancer, director and civil rights activist, Dr Maya Angelou, who died on May 28, 2014, at the age of 86. People will never forget how Angelou made them feel.

Poet, critic and scholar Joanne M Braxton remembers her as “America’s most visible black female auto biographer”. To me, when I think of Angelou I think of Nelson Mandela’s famous saying,

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

Born as Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928, in St Louis, Missouri, Angelou had an extensive career spanning over 50 years. From writing movie screenplays and television scripts to performing as a singer, dancer and actor, she did it all. In fact, Angelou received more than 50 esteemed awards for her works, which include more than 30 honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Pulitzer Prize, a Tony, an Emmy and three Grammys.

She gained historical recognition as the first best-seller African-American woman for her most outstanding and revolutionary memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), the first part of her seven autobiographies. Angelou attains more or less a rare, one of its kind, hue in the Caged Bird that brings together casualness, companionship and severance – a touch, undeniably of certain calmness, that surpasses the terrified degradation and fury that Angelou endured as a young girl.

“The free bird thinks of another breeze

And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

And he names the sky his own.

 

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

His wings are clipped and his feet are tied

So he opens his throat to sing

 

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.”

(Stanzas from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing)

Through her work, Angelou expressed profound feelings, intelligence, humour, audacity and elegance. In 1971, Angelou got an award for her poetry Just give me a cool drink of water ‘fore I die. Her other iconic poems include Still I Rise, The Phenomenal Woman, The Detached and Alone.

“Now if you listen closely

I’ll tell you what I know

Storm clouds are gathering

The wind is gonna blow

The race of man is suffering

And I can hear the moan,

‘Cause nobody,

But nobody

Can make it out here alone.”

(A stanza from Alone)

Her words wholly clinch the reader and touch him/her deep in their soul, like those of a spellbinder.

“Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise.”

(A stanza from Still I Rise)

What truly inspires me about Angelou is that she deals with intolerance, disparity, grievance and unfairness in such a creatively persuasive manner that you are left with no choice but to feel the emotions she is whispering inside your soul.

I have been a big fan of her work and the more I read about her life, the more inspired I am. With a deep, royal voice, Angelou could convince even those on the brink of burning to have faith in themselves, to believe – “we had strength of transformation within us”. She believed that love is a hidden power that enlightens the outer and inner self. It is guidance from the heart that sets an example of self-love.

Being a woman, I believe it to be an honour for me to have lived in the same time as Maya Angelou. Angelou is more than just an influential personality for present-day women, she is the vision, she is the goal. Through her work, she has taught women all over the world to fulfil their dreams, not with the encumbrances of sufferings and tortures but with self-determination and courage.

Here, I share some of my personal favourites from Angelou’s inspiring quotes:

“Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.”

“A woman’s heart should be so hidden in God that a man has to seek Him just to find her.”

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story.”

“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

“No sun outlasts its sunset but will rise again and bring the dawn.”

“Love recognises no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination, full of hope.”

“A woman who is convinced that she deserves to accept only the best, challenges herself to give the best. Then she is living phenomenally.”

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”

“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.”

“We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.”

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”

“No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”

“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

“While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realise and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”

Angelou’s powerful words will encourage people to believe in themselves for generations to come.

May God bless this great soul.

Tanveer Khadim

Tanveer Khadim

An avid reader, freelance writer and a blogger, Tanveer is pursuing fashion designing. She has a passion for cooking, attended cookery courses and tweets as @TheFusionDiary (twitter.com/TheFusionDiary)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.