This week President Obama gave the Medal of Freedom to Maya Angelou. The President chooses the recipients of the Medal of Freedom for their “especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” It is the highest honor the President can bestow upon a civilian. Maya Angelou joins the ranks of 20 other literature honorees, a group she enhances by her inclusion.
I remember standing just beyond the steps of the Capitol building on January 20, 1993, the crowd amped up and excited for the inauguration of President Clinton. I’m sure his speech was terrific, but I doubt many remember. What we all can recall with a note of reverence is Maya Angelou reciting On the Pulse of Morning. There have been a couple of times in my life when secular events have taken on the hue of the sacred and this was one of them. She and her poem overshadowed the entire ceremony. However, On the Pulse of Morning isn’t my favorite Angelou poem, the one I truly love is Still I Rise. In celebration of her well deserved award, here is the poem and a video of her reciting it.
Still I Rise
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.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.