Still I Rise is a poem of inspiration, appearing in 1978 with a collection of other poems in a book known by the same title. It's a fairly short poem consisting of 8 stanzas. It's an inspirational narrative written from the standpoint of a victorious woman speaking directly to those who wish to oppress and defame her character.
In the first stanza, it appears as if she is speaking on behalf of a collective experience of black women, who at the time were battling against being blamed not only by sociologists but also black male nationalists for the destruction of the black family as a result of slavery creating a matriarchal family structure. She writes;
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.
That verse alone appears to take on the sentiments of a book written by the late Daniel P. Moynihan called, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” as well as the image of the ''welfare queen'' which began to populate around the same time.
In second stanza, she takes on the Sapphire image and aloof images so often used to characterize black women.
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.
However, this may be speaking to the common occurrences of verbal assault encountered by black women by black men. The ''you ain't all that anyway'' and ''B-'' words heard by average black women who may respond defensively or not respond at all to catcalls.
The third and fourth stanzas seem to speak from the standpoint of professional women who are often accused of having attitudes, or being arrogant, by coworkers, friends and family. She writes,
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.
We can speculate many things about her intentions, but being a black woman, I tend to interpret the meaning of her words based on common sentiments and experiences by the majority of black women. In the aforementioned stanzas, all deal with mis-characterizations and assaults against black womanhood.
The conclusion in the final stanza is a glorious ending and reflection of being the hope and the dream of slaves as reflected in the freedom and opportunity of the present day. The message drives a point that no matter what stumbling blocks, cruel words or expressions of contempt, the protagonist will be triumphant.
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.