Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou came to Carnegie Music Hall last week.
She was the most inspiring and engaging speaker I've
ever heard in person. She sang, recited poetry, told
stories of hope, made us laugh. It was truly

She stressed the need to read the early Black American
poets. She read this one from Paul Laurence Dunbar,
one of her heros:


I know what the caged bird feels.
Ah me, when the sun is bright on the upland slopes,
when the wind blows soft through the springing grass
and the river floats like a sheet of glass,
when the first bird sings and the first bud ops,
and the faint perfume from its chalice steals.
I know what the caged bird feels.

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
till its blood is red on the cruel bars,
for he must fly back to his perch and cling
when he fain would be on the bow aswing.
And the blood still throbs in the old, old scars
and they pulse again with a keener sting.
I know why he beats his wing.

I know why the caged bird sings.
Ah, me, when its wings are bruised and its bosom sore.
It beats its bars and would be free.
It's not a carol of joy or glee,
but a prayer that it sends from its heart's deep core,
a plea that upward to heaven it flings.
I know why the caged bird sings.

The theme of the evening was, "A Rainbow in the Clouds".
This was not to be interpreted as sun breaking through the
clouds, making a rainbow, but a rainbow being a part of the
cloud itself. I believe she got this image from an early
black poet, though I've forgotten who.

She told the story of her uncle Willie, who was a
small convenient store owner at the turn of the century.
He was blind in one eye, and a cripple. He taught
(forced) her to learn her times tables, and stressed
learning in general. She and her brother had
to hide him from the police when they went on
black bashing rampages. Many years later, she
was heading back to the small town of Arkansas
where he lived, to attend his funeral. She was
greeted at the airport by the mayor of Little Rock.
He expressed how the state had lost such a great
man in Willie. She looked at him, somewhat dumbfounded.
It turned out that Willie had taught him to read and
instilled the same love of learning he had gifted to
Maya. In a kind of just irony, he gave her a full police
escort from Little Rock to the town where the funeral was
being held. In town, she met a lawyer who was taking care
of the legal aspect of the funeral. He also was taught by
Willie, and was not only a lawyer, but a member of the state
legislature. It was a profound example of the difference a
person can make. A rainbow in the clouds.

Thank you Maya.

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