The caged bird that sang is free at last: Maya Angelou is dead at 86. The blazing trajectory of the American poet-performer’s life is proof enough of the adage that nothing — neither early childhood abuse nor bodily exploitation later — can deter the soul determined to redeem herself.
From her early desperate years, Angelou gradually morphed into a nightclub dancer and thence to a life of letters; she wrote more than 30 books of poetry and essays including six autobiographies; she directed films and television, winning three Grammy Awards and was invited by President-elect Bill Clinton to read an original poem at his first inauguration in 1993. This made her only the second poet in American history, after Robert Frost, to be so honoured. Her poem On the Pulse of Morning invited the reader to “Lift up your eyes upon/ The day breaking for you”. Her ringing words — from the world’s oldest democracy to the most populous one — resonate with yet another ancient hymn of hope. This one was also created by a rebel rishi, who also defied caste and class prejudice to rise to global eminence ( Brahmarshi-pada) with sheer force of will. Seer Vishwamitra’s Gayatri Mantra exhorts seekers to meditate upon the Sun’s radiance to illuminate themselves.
This is akin to Angelou’s rapture of revival that urged her nation “to give birth/ Again to the Dream”, pushing past its bitter history of oppression and division. She had no illusions though, “You may write me down in history…you may trod me in the very dirt,” she said in And Still I Rise. “But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”