Phenomenal Woman By Maya Angelou


Maya Angelou is undoubtedly one of the most important American literary figures. In addition to her art, she was also a civil rights activist. Maya Angelou was born as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4th, 1928. However, despite being born in St. Louis, she was raised in a highly segregated and rural Stamps, Arkansas for much of her childhood. She experienced a lot of abuse and trauma in her life which shaped her profoundly. Living amidst segregation and with the horrors of racism that plagued the United States in that particular time, she also faced nightmarish troubles in her own home. When she was only eight years old, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. When she revealed to her family what happened, Maya’s uncles beat the man to death. Guilty and frightened, she felt like like she was responsible for his death. For that reason, she chose not to speak for over five years. Later on, she would be discovered by a theater group while working at a strip club in San Diego, California. Maya managed to overcome all her struggles. Now her legacy lives on even long after she has passed. She is forever known as being one of the most positive, respected and influential African-Americans of all time. She was truly a phenomenal woman.

‘Phenomenal Woman’ Analysis

I was introduced to Maya Angelou’s work as a young child. From what I know and have personally experienced through the American school system, she was and continues to be an integral part of our education. In my elementary school, we read her poems and learned about her life. She is more than familiar to me and I am a big fan of her work so this is why I’m doing my second short essay analysis on arguably one of her best poems, ‘Phenomenal Woman’.

‘Phenomenal Woman’ was first published in 1978 in Cosmopolitan magazine. Maya shared that she had written this poem for all women of races, shapes and sizes. She said she wrote it for black women, white, Asian, Native American, and so on. She had in mind fat women, thin women, pretty women and the plain Janes as well. This poem is truly inclusive, and an amazing confident booster. It brings us all together to relish in our womanhood- however we may look or be. It’s a poem that can be understood clearly as it is direct, and it is one that everyone can feel just as strongly. The words go straight to the heart, and uplifts. The tone of this poem is very positive and assertive.

This poem is a lyrical poem and there are four stanzas overall. In the first part of the poem, in stanza one, she is addressing the pretty women. The reason for this is because she is not ‘conventionally pretty’, she’s not cute and she doesn’t have a fashion model’s size yet her physical attributes captures everyone’s attention. Everyone wants to know her secret, especially the pretty women. In the second stanza, she captures the attention of men. They all flock to her, “Then they swarm around me/A hive of honey bees”. Even though she is not what society would deem as beautiful, she still has many captivating qualities. She has fire, rhythm and joy to her aura.

The third stanza is similar to the second one, she talks about the men that can’t take their eyes off of her. Men wonder a lot about her, but they can’t truly discover the mystery she holds. It’s one that will stay with her forever because as she says, even when she tries to show them- they still can’t see. In the fourth and final stanza, she is addressing us- the audience. She’s speaking directly to us. In this stanza, she is essentially going over everything she previously said in the last three stanzas. The click of her heels, the bend of her hair, and the palm of her hand are all things we can see make her a phenomenal woman. It shows us that it’s all about the way she carries herself, her spirit, and strength. These qualities are a defining part of her femininity and her essence. All of this is what makes her phenomenally a woman, and a phenomenal woman at that.

This poem has a lot of rhymes and metaphors. The rhymes are lies/size, lips/hips, please/knees/bees, much/touch, me/mystery/see, smile/style, bowed/loud/proud and hair/care. It can be seen as a free verse as it has an irregular rhyming scheme. Instead of having a set structure, it opts to rhyme more sporadically for emphasis. And this is why it also contains repetition, it is to provide an effective emphasis for her message. “I am a woman/Phenomenally/Phenomenal Woman/That’s me” is what is repeated throughout the whole poem, as every stanza ends with this part. She wants the audience to internalize this message. This poem is very lyrical, and it can almost be like a song- a ballad.

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