A Conceit | Maya Angelou

This short poem from Maya Angelou resonates today. Especially in light of undeclared and declared wars raging in the USA and around the globe. Note that a conceit is an image or metaphor as often found in poetry. So use your imagination as you read! Maya Angelou is painting a picture in poetic language. My comments follow.

Give me your hand.

Make room for me
to lead and follow
you
beyond this rage of poetry.

Let others have
the privacy of
touching words
and love of loss
of love.

For me
Give me your hand.

Maya Angelou, in Poetry for Young People
Edited by Edwin Graves Wilson, PhD
Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books

In this short poem I hear Maya Angelou saying two things about life and poetry.

  • Poetry can be emotionally moving while remaining a private indulgence.
  • This poem asks for more than this. Will you come with me?

Her phrase “beyond this rage of poetry” gives us a clue. This rage isn’t about anger. It’s the raging emotions of literary writing. This includes poems that convey deeply felt, sometimes prophetic emotions.

Maya Angelou’s poem demands more than our feelings, our sentimentality. It invites action. Not simply alone, but also together.

It may sound trite to say we need each other. Of course we do. Yet this poem is about more than that.

On its own, poetry can’t bring about change. It doesn’t matter how persuasively a poem describes our agony or our ecstasy, our losses or our love. What matters most is what we do or don’t do about it.

And so Maya Angelou’s poem offers an alternative to living in the private world of poetry. The alternative moves me into public worlds in which I am not yet present just as I am. Vulnerable, a beginner, falling down and getting up to begin again. Hanging onto Maya Angelou’s hand for dear life. Sometimes leading the way.

This first step doesn’t absolve me of responsibility for the direction we take. Yet if I don’t take Maya Angelou’s hand and follow her lead, I won’t discover what we may need to do next.

My gender, color, family background, or other markers of my so-called ‘identity’ won’t help me solve a problem I don’t yet understand.

Where are we going? We’ll find out together, ‘beyond this rage of poetry.’ Beyond its private intensity and enthusiasm of words.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2018
Image found at wikia.com