Critical Analysis of Phenomenal Woman
Poetry is like an unsung song, expressing the innermost feelings of a person. It explores the inner person that the poet hides from the rest of the world and allows the world to see the thoughts of the individual being in a different light or understand the poet better. It sometimes expresses the utmost desire of the poet, be it the fairy tale fantasy, the worst nightmare or the hidden secret in their lives. It also dwells on the issues that affect our everyday lives. It seeks to bring out the ills of the society and highlights the goodness thereof. Analysis requires a deeper meaning and understanding. Poets use various poetic devices such as imagery, symbolism and personification when writing their work (Kennedy & Gioia, 2001). This means that a poem can have hidden meanings. Analysis is not restricted to an individual’s point of view. It also means that different people can read the same poem and have different interpretations to it. I am going to analyze the poem “Phenomenal woman,” which was written by Maya Angelou.
The poem has a formless structure and a sort of lyrical feel to it. The musical aspect of the poem has been brought out by the repetition of words and the personal sentiments that she expresses. It has five stanzas divided inconsistently, with one stanza having only three lines. Some of the stanzas are longer. There is repetition in every stanza; with each stanza in the poem having the phrase ‘I’m a woman’, this serves a strong purpose. The speaker is proud of the fact that she is a woman. She emphasizes that repeatedly yet she does not generalize and say that she is like every woman. She does not offer the suggestion that every woman should be like her.
She actually gives a clear distinction between her and the rest of the women, but advices them to have a strong personality like hers. All but one stanza has the word phenomenal. Phenomenal means extraordinary, exceptionally unique and unparalleled to any other. Some of the sentences are longer. The second line of the first stanza is the longest where she is explaining to the women who are prettier than her that she is not the standard beauty when it concerns the face or the body size. The shortest line is repeated three times adding much to the emphasis of what the persona is trying to say. Another short line that has been repeated thrice is ‘that’s me’. This line clearly shows that she does not expect other women to be like her.
These are strong sentiments and show the extremity with which the speaker values herself. There is an emotional tone to the poem. The writer is involved and talks in the first person. The poem is a description of how she sees herself and how she would like others to see themselves. Although she offers advice to the prettier women and tells them about self-confidence, they do not believe her. The speaker of the poem takes the subject at hand very seriously. She is straightforward and passionate about her beauty and her self-confidence. The seriousness of the tone, which she uses, makes the reader identify with the situation. Beauty is something that every woman desires. Every person has his or her own idea of beauty (Holland 1998).
Angelou writes about a phenomenal woman. She describes the beauty of a woman and the strength that is endowed within her and which she should portray especially when it is related to men. She recognizes that not every woman can fit the model description of having a small size. Indeed, beauty can be found in other aspects of a person’s body and character such as the lips and the step. She uses symbolism in her poetry such as comparing the woman to a hive and the men to the bees. This serves the purpose of showing how strong her sentiments are. She also uses overstatements when she says that men see her and fall to the ground on their knees and at the same time swarm around her.
In her poem, Maya seeks to encourage other women and fill them with a sense of self-confidence. She tells them to walk with their heads held high and let their bodies do their talking for them. She uses insignificant parts of the body such as the teeth, palm of the hand and the hair to show their strength. She uses random rhyme in her poem when she talks of lips and hips, please, knees, bees, about and loud and other rhyming words. This adds to the flow of her poem and makes the reader think further on what is being talked about. It also makes the reader feel a sense of enjoyment when reading the poem. She wants the reader to understand why men find her attractive despite not being what most people would consider beautiful (Holland 1998).
The symbols that she uses to describe herself are strong. She finds different images to describe her beauty. She uses both images and metaphors such as the use of fire to describe what she sees in her eyes. Fire is something that is so strong and can be used to destroy and to refine. She sees herself as a destroyer of men’s confidence, by the fact that they fall on her knees or they are forced to stand. Perhaps the fire is also used to show how her eyes refine her face, that they are a strong focus of her beauty, the reason that men find her attractive. She also uses bees and compares men to a swarm of bees, which swarm around her.
This brings in a bit of irony since bees are known more for their sting. They will always sting to protect their honey. They also sting when they think that their home is in danger. She tones this down when she compares the men to a hive of honeybees. Apart from their sting, bees are known for their honey, which is extremely sweet. This statement leaves the reader with some questions. It leaves him or her wondering if the bees first sting the speaker and soothe her with the taste of the honey or do they provide the honey first then sting her afterwards. The poem also uses personification. The speaker describes her feet as having joy and her hips swinging. The sun is described as smiling and the breasts are riding.
All these are positive aspects and descriptions. They show just how happy the speaker is. Her body and the surrounding environment seem to echo her sentiments. The theme of self-confidence and self-assuredness are prevalent in the poem. They show just how highly the poet thinks of herself. In the first line of the first stanza, she talks of other women who are prettier than her wondering about her secret concerning her self-confidence. In the third stanza, she confesses that men do not understand their own attraction to her. Her beauty is not exceptional yet they are still attracted to her. In the modern world where beauty has become exaggerated and it is all about plastic and cosmetic, it is easy to see why the other women do not believe her and why they think that she is lying when she tells them about the other sort of beauty. Repetition is also used in the poem as she constantly repeats the words phenomenal. She refers to herself as a phenomenal woman. Repetition is a great technique that poets use when they want to lay emphasis on a certain theme or subject matter in a poem or when they want to draw the readers attention to something. It also adds to the flow of the poem (Kennedy & Gioia, 2001).
The persona knows that she is a beautiful woman and she wants the whole world to know it. She also uses anaphora in her work. Anaphora is a form of repetition. The main difference between anaphora and repetition is that anaphora occurs at the beginning of lines and repetition can occur anywhere in the stanza. They both create a nice flow and anaphora creates a softer emphasis to the poem. In the first stanza, anaphora occurs when the speaker is describing her qualities such as the span, the stride and the curl. The same trend is also seen in the third stanza when the speaker is talking about the sun, the ride and the grace. The word phenomenal is also repeated, creating another form of anaphora. In essence, it serves the same purpose as repetition (Holland, 1998).
In today’s world, there have been many misconceptions where the definition and description of beauty are concerned. Women have been so prejudiced by the society they live in and by themselves that they have forgotten to look inside them for inner beauty. The values of self-assurance, self-confidence and self-esteem are no longer seen as important. The inner qualities that make a person are not recognized anymore. Although a woman writes this poem and it is about a woman, there are elements in it, which men can emulate. People should not forget who they are on the inside just so that they can look good on the outside. They may please others while doing so as their inner being is left shattered and destroyed.
Analysis of poetry is not a hard thing to do. The reader only needs to look at the common themes that are applied in the poem. These could be personal issues that are currently affecting them, or experiences that they have had to deal with in the past. When one finds this niche, then it will be easier for the person to do his or her analysis. Poems usually have common themes expressed in different ways. Every poem has a lesson to teach and a message to pass across the audience. The poem analyzed was didactic. The aim of the chosen poem was to empower the ordinary woman to feel and acts like a queen and to walk with her head held high. The persona finishes the last stanza with a few more words of advice (Cucinella, 2002).
In the first stanza, she had started to give a few words of wisdom, in the last stanza she reaches the climax and tells them that they do not have to draw attention to themselves using loud words and gestures. Smaller gestures will get them noticed. The poet of this poem had faced difficulty when growing up. She had been sexually molested and had been traumatized by the death of her molester. It had affected her so mush that she did not use her voice for about five years. She had also faced segregation during her earlier years but she overcame all these problems and struggles. She has achieved a lot in her life. She comes out strong, years later to encourage other women and to tell them that they do not have to rely on the world outside to tell them that they are not beautiful. They only have to look deep inside them, to get whatever it is that they are yearning for.
Cucinella, Catherine. Contemporary American Women Poets: An A-to-Z Guide. London, UK: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002. Print.
Holland, Kelly. Maya Angelou. University of North Carolina. Web. 20 October1998.
Kennedy, X.J. and Gioia, Dana. An Introduction to Poetry. New York, NY: Longman: 2001. Print.