Remember Maya

 

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

Today one of America’s most beloved poets and writers died.  Maya Angelou gave voice to the struggles of growing up in the Jim Crow south. She gave voice to black women and men. She gave voice to Americans who struggled in poverty and she inspired the world with her courage.  She was a dancer, an activist, a writer and a poet.  In addition to her books and poetry, Maya Angelou wrote numerous plays, children’s books and essays. She wrote cookbooks and was an actress starring in movies and television.

Her day of birth fell on April 4 the same day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and for many years she refused to celebrate her birthday. Angelou’s distinctive voice whether in interviews or reading excerpts from her books or pieces of her poetry or on stage had a clarity and strength that was conveyed through her words and her eyes.  She had seen suffering and pain and also known joy and success as President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She tried to describe the fullness of life through her writings.  Her memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an American classic.  She was nominated for a  Tony, a Pulitzer Prize,  and won two Grammys and a National Medal of Arts and had more than 20 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities.

I will never forget listening on that cold January morning in 1993 when she read a new poem at President Clinton’s inauguration. She captured for many the moment and our America.  Here is her poem.  May her memory live as a blessing and her writings and activism continue to inspire all.

ON THE PULSE OF MORNING” by Maya Angelou written: Spoken at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, January 20, 1993.

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

 

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.

 

You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words

 

Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,

But do not hide your face.

 

Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song. It says,

Come, rest here by my side.

 

Each of you, a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.

 

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African, the Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.

 

They hear the first and last of every Tree

Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.

 

Each of you, descendant of some passed

On traveler, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you,

Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then

Forced on bloody feet,

Left me to the employment of

Other seekers — desperate for gain,

Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,

Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours — your passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, but if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.

 

Lift up your eyes upon

This day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.

 

Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands,

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For a new beginning.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

 

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out and upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

 

Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, and into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope —

Good morning.

 

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