Maya’s Magic

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

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.”

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