Saturday, 16 April 2016

My thoughts on Maya Angelou's Phenomenal Woman poem.

Phenomenal Woman 

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. 
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I tell them 
They think I’m telling lies. 
I say, 
It’s in the reach of my arms, 
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman 
Phenomenally. 
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me. 


I walk into a room 
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man, 
The fellows stand or 
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me, 
A hive of honey bees.   
I say, 
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman 
Phenomenally. 


Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me. 


Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me. 
They try so much 
But they can’t touch 
My inner mystery. 
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say, 
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile, 
The ride of my breasts, 
The grace of my style. 
I’m a woman 
Phenomenally. 
Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me. 


Now you understand 
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about 
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing, 
It ought to make you proud. 
I say, 
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman 
Phenomenally. 
Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me.





Her poem begins with a scene where the poet is surrounded by other women who wonder what it is that she has that men go crazy about her. They demand answers and when they don't hear whatever it is they want to hear, they think she's holding back. The other women truly don't see it, and the poet herself agrees that she's not conventionally attractive. She admits that she's not the usual cute nor does she have the right figure.

The poet audaciously proclaims her contentment with herself as she is and has no intention to change a thing. She describes her assets with such pride. It's so clear that she knows that what she is,is amazing. She talks about the span of her hips, the reach of her arms and the curl of her lips and we begin to see her as she is, this phenomenal woman. We begin to see that beauty she displays so defiantly. That sincere beauty with no artifice and that attendant confidence which makes men run wild with thirst.  

She's aware of her power. She knows very well the effect of her presence in any room she enters where men are present. She uses the imagery of a swarm of honey bees about the hive to show us just how the men act towards her and we see it so clearly. The bee hive is where the bees go to in order to store their honey after a hard day's work. Now we come back to the men and their bee attitude and we see that her conventionally unattractive body becomes a safe haven for them after life's hard knocks.

The poet continues to attempt an explanation, futile as that is. She talks about the sun of her smile  in her eyes. This speaks to her optimistic nature. Then she goes forward to mention the swing of her waist and the joy in her feet, and now it becomes apparent that there's an inner dance in progress. Her spirits are so high that her body even moves rhythmically. She has a proud smile which exudes optimism. Her dancing spirit celebrates woman. 

The poet now approaches the question of her beauty from the male perspective. This quite plain looking woman owns their very beings and they cannot understand it. She tries to show them that it is nothing specific that draws them but the combination of her entirety as a woman would always be a draw to them. Yet they still cannot see what is as plain as day to her. She uses the imagery of the arch of her back, her glorious smile, the ride of her breasts to explain but it's an exercise in futility.  

The poet then draws their attention to the reason she is what she is, the reason for her great self-confidence. She makes it crystal that she has no need for antics to be noticed. She has no need to shout or jump about to be acknowledged as being present. She gets attention by being honest to her true self. She is complete in her power and in her sense of womanhood.