In the opening stanza of Maya Angelou's "Still I Rise", the syllables go 9 / 7 / 9 / 6. The second verse goes 8 / 7 / 9 / 7. All of these are within two or three syllables of each other, and relatively long.
The third verse, however, goes 6 / 7 / 6 / 3:

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

This last line breaks the patterns - it's shorter than other line in the poem so far (and for most of the rest of the poem), literally half as long as the previous shortest line (6 syllables).
How does this affect our reading? What effect does breaking the pattern like this have?

  • Have you ever heard audio of Angelou delivering the poem herself? I think it’s useful to hear where the writer places emphasis.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:27
  • @Spagirl - I have not. (I don't generally listen to readings of poems and stories, preferring to read things for myself.) I might see if I can find a recording, though; thanks for the suggestion.
    – Mithical
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:29
  • I saw her read this on television back in the 80’s and have found it impossible to read without hearing her voice in my head ever since. It’s the single work that is so identified in my mind with the literal authorial voice, though closely followed by anything by Michel Faber.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 8:34
  • This may have been the recording I first heard youtu.be/qviM_GnJbOM
    – Spagirl
    Commented Sep 14, 2020 at 20:19


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.