Still I Rise 1978
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.
Lazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge
Wo din ke jis ka wada hai
Jo lauh-e-azl mein likha hai
Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e-garan
Rooi ki tarha ur jaenge
Hum mehkoomon ke paaon tale
Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi
Aur ahl-e-hakam ke sar oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkegi
Bas naam rahega Allah ka
Jo ghayib bhi hai hazir bhi
Jo manzar bhi hai nazir bhi
Utthega an-al-haq ka nara
Jo main bhi hoon, aur tum bhi ho
Aur raaj karegi khalq-e-Khuda
Jo main bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho
These two brilliantly stirring pieces are amongst those words that echo the sentiments of their people’s movements with a ceaseless ferocity. The first was written as a reaction to centuries of oppression and marginalization of the African American community in the USA and the second was written as a message to the regime of the Pakistani premier Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq.
The theme which binds these two poems very strongly is that, in some sense, they are both ballads of fearless defiance in the very face of adversity. The two poems are testimonies of the moods of their milieu through which the poets and every other person who echoes their words, directly talks to their oppressors, without the tangles and inscrutability of established hierarchies of communication. The honesty and humility with which these words come together, when spoken, for a moment dissolve all notions of superiority or inferiority and strips the speaker and listener down to two human beings, skin and bones, where one is simply telling her truth to the other.
The effect is like a thunderclap, cosmic almost. In simply repeating these words, as a reader of the poem outside of the time and space when they were written, one cannot help but feel the piercing gaze that each and every person must have fearlessly carried in their eyes whilst their tongues echoed the weight of these beautifully orchestrated words.
One of the devices that lends this effect to both ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Hum Dekhenge’ are the robust associations that Angelou and Faiz instill. A verse from ‘Still I Rise’ goes - 'Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise.’ When Angelou draws associations like these, she sets her truth to become universal. These words make a reader endearingly believe that there is the exact same amount of truth, if not more, in their rising and in the cosmic scientific truths of this universe.
Similarly Faiz says, ‘Ye dharti dhar dhar dharkegi’ and ‘Jab bijli kar kar karkegi’. It almost feels like the earth will wail like a mother for the misery her children have been put through and in collusion, the skies will unleash a crackling thunder that would instantly decimate the heads of those who inflicted this pain upon her children.
Angelou and Faiz are similar in their approach here, in the sense that they both turn to nature to give power to the full gushing force of their emotions.
It is very interesting to note a key difference between the two poems: ‘Hum Dekhenge’ has very strong religious undertones whereas ‘Still I Rise’ makes no reference to religion anywhere, despite the fact that the African American people, whether Christians or Muslims, are just as religious as the Pakistani people. It is the religious heterogeneity of the African American community that refrains Angelou from making any religious connotations in the poem. In any case, despite this difference, both the poems are incredibly universal in their flavor and any individual can find comfort in these words if they allow themselves to.
This universality that the poems possess is embedded in truth. The poems were written as reactions to the events of the poets’ milieus but remain incredibly relevant even today, and the testimony of this is the fact that people from a very different time and context have made these poems their own. ‘Hum Dekhenge’ found itself become the anthem of the anti CAA protests in India last year. ‘Still I Rise’ was amongst the most recited poems at the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA last year. These poems have answered the clarion call every single time any people have needed to give words to their pain and angst. The two poems have transcended the tethers of time and space and today occupy a very special place in global public imagination and therein lies their sheer brilliance.