“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” ~ Maya Angelou
By invitation of Poetry Friday host Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core, we are joining today’s celebration to honor notable women. I so admire and respect Maya Angelou, a true Renaissance woman who lived many lifetimes as a poet, autobiographer, playwright, producer, director, actor, singer, dancer, editor, lecturer, civil rights activist, and fierce advocate of strong women.
Her landmark autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969), made her a prominent spokesperson for African Americans and set a precedent, enabling formerly marginalized black female writers to publicly discuss their personal lives. This book and her four subsequent autobiographies are among the most powerful and transformative books I’ve ever read.
Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women.
Today, Dr. Angelou is celebrated as an icon of gender equality and social justice, a humanitarian who led by example, promoting peace, inclusion, unity, tolerance, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and love.
I can’t think of any other modern female poet with a greater gift for oral recitation. She was truly a master of the spoken word — her deep, melodious voice so rich with the joy and pain of vast and varied experience, hard-earned wisdom, and steadfast conviction. She held audiences spellbound at her readings, which many considered moral and spiritual awakenings. All this, from a once mute girl, whose love of poetry, literature, and language enabled her to overcome childhood sexual trauma.
Some of her poems have indeed become anthems. It’s no wonder she was asked to deliver an original poem (“On the Pulse of Morning”) at President Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. She was only the second person in American history ever honored in this way (Robert Frost read at JFK’s inauguration in 1961).
Her “public poems” redefined poetry for many, prompting the reluctant to open their minds and listen. Her words had the power to move the masses, even as they touched humble hearts.
The honorary duty of a human being is to love.
A few years ago, I shared “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem,” which she wrote for the White House Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 2005. It remains one of the most well-visited posts at Alphabet Soup.
I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.
Today I’m sharing “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote for the 50th Anniversary of the Founding of the United Nations (1995). It’s a timeless poem, especially relevant in our current political climate. What would she say, I wonder, about all the hate and divisiveness in our country today? Probably this:
Don’t just complain about the problems you see and do nothing; roll up your sleeves and get to work finding solutions and remedies. We do a disservice to our children and to the future by not addressing the problems that confront us. Nor should our efforts for change be thwarted or stifled by the obstacles arrayed against us. We must steel ourselves with courage and perseverance and battle on for what is right.
How sorely we need her words of hope right now, her call to action! How empowering to know that as human beings, we have the freedom and ability to choose good over evil.