Wise Poets, Wise Poets of the Past

Maya Angelou: The Voice of the Underdog

Maya Angelou: The Voice of the Underdog

Maya Angelou: The Voice of the Underdog

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Lewis. Missouri Maya Angelou was not just a prolific, impressive writer but a remarkable human being who used her talents yo fight for the rights of oppressed people and being a voice for woman, children and minorities everywhere

She herself was a sexually abused child who was ultimately raped by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of eight leaving her deeply depressed and totally mute for a spsan of five years until she was mentored back to health by a caring teacher by the name of Bertha Flowers. It was then that Maya immersed herself in the writings of such greats as Charles Dickens, Shakespeare and Poe.

Angelou actually grew up with her paternal grandmother who was a prosperous general store merchant during the depression era, and her brother Bailey Jr. and disabled uncle in Stamps, Arkansas, with her biologically father only popping in occasionally and periodic visits to see her mother, And it was her brother who gave her the nick-name of Maya, short for mya sister,

As a child Angelou was deeply affected by the rank racism of the day and harbored a deep distrust of white people, and although she was a good student at the top of her junior high graduation class, she was deeply disappointed by racism when it was announced proudly by a town official that the white school of the town was receiving a grant for new science equipment while her school was only getting new sports equipment. She felt the real sting of racism then, and she felt pigeon-holed and stereotyped and a whole lot less than free,

She then left Stamps to attend high school and live with her mother in Oakland, California where she studied at the California Labor School and graduated to become the State’s first female, African American cable-car operators in San Francisco, breaking both racial and sexist barriers and realizing an early dream. This very colorful woman then went on to work at various and diverse jobs such as fry cook, sex worker and performer at the Purple Onion nightclub where she sang and danced the calypso, But it was in landing a role in the world renown opera “Porgy and Bess” that gave her her big break, And she went on to become a prolific memoirest and poet, writing a grand total of seven memoirs. along with numerous poetry books and essay,s and was by and large one of America’s most honored and accomplished writers of all time winning many achievement awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her role as a Civil Rights activist, and 50 honorary college degrees and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, In her famous poem “Caged Bird” she speaks of what it is like not to be free and what it must feel like to actually be free.

Caged Bird

BY MAYA ANGELOU

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind   

and floats downstream   

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

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.

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.

This poem reminds me that there are still children trapped by racism and abuse and that the vast majority of American people who reside in our prison system are African American and that the longing of the black race and children to be free is still a relevant feeling for people today as she gives us a visual image of a bird pacing in his cage and his feet being bound. This is a heart-wrenching poignant poem that beautifully illustrates the fact Angelo may have lost her voice as a child, but she sure did find it as a woman and as the minority people have also “come of age” so to speak, the woman and the children and the people of color have also found theirs

Angelou died on May 28, 2014 after a long period of declining health, but her songs will long be heard.

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