Last year’s performance of ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou was powerful and touching. The unity of the different languages resonated with the audience and the message of Angelou’s iconic poem. Even now, I’ve come to realise that this poem is a meaningful representation of the Wimbledonian spirit. To me, ‘Still, I Rise’ summarises three key ideals at Wimbledon High School: the ability to overcome adversity and hardship, our keen connection with womanhood, and our connection to our different cultures.
For those of you who have forgotten the poem, it is printed below:
Still I Rise – Maya Angelou
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 backyard.
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.
Angelou’s emphasis on the narrator’s triumph over adversity is impossible to ignore in ‘Still I Rise’. Although Angelou focuses on her ability to move past her challenges, they are not left unspoken of. In the final stanza, Angelou powerfully describes “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear”. Angelou does not shy away from mentioning the suffering of black men and women and their “nights of terror and fear”. The emotive openness about Angelou’s suffering is something I find incredibly important to foster. Although this was several years ago, WHS’s ‘Failure Week’ shows our ability to embrace our mistakes and hardships. Being open about difficulties and mental illness are what allow us to move past them, which is exactly what Angelou repeats in her poem. Angelou describes “Leaving behind” these hardships, which creates an open and accepting tone. Instead of fostering grudges and hard feelings, Angelou is inviting the reader to join her battle. The title itself demonstrates the expectations placed upon Angelou to give up by using the adverb “Still”. Perhaps Wimbledon’s position as a girls’ school resonates with this as well, given that women are historically expected to be weaker and less intelligent. Despite this, Angelou creates a light and hopeful tone suggesting that these expectations are possible to overcome. The final triad of “I rise” creates a sense of energy and upward movement which the reader carries with them after reading the poem. Even the use of a full stop at the end of the poem shows Angelou’s determination to continue ‘rising’. I hope Angelou would be glad to see how she has continued to ‘rise’ through her influence on young girls like those at Wimbledon, even five years after her unfortunate death.
Perhaps most notably, Wimbledon and ‘Still I Rise’ are connected by a conjoined pride in our womanhood. Angelou is unashamedly feminist and feminine in ‘Still I Rise’, which WHS mirrors perfectly. She takes her sexuality and her female identity confidently and powerfully into action by claiming “That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?”. Wimbledon is no stranger to dancing, from our musicals to 6th Form Dance Off, it is a form of expression which is embraced in our school environment. Here Angelou uses the jubilant imagery of dancing to suggest that she can overcome her adversity with joy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, the imagery of “diamonds” is connected with high worth, which is then connected with the sexually suggestive imagery of her “thighs”. By providing her female and sexual identity with high worth, Angelou is self-asserting her power and need for respect. Although we try to keep things professional at WHS, we are a school which embraces sexuality in different forms. Our annual ‘Pride Week’ emphasises our progressive ability to take ownership of our sexuality. Furthermore, PSHE is frequently used as an opportunity for girls to question and be open about their sexual health. Overall, Angelou’s ownership of her womanhood and her ability to use it as a positive tool resonates powerfully with WHS’s proud identity as a girls’ school.