A great storyteller, memoirist, and poet, Maya Angelou was born in Missouri, United States. She has been a civil rights activist and worked alongside Martin Luther King, too. She won numerous awards for her literary writings. Her best ten poems are as follows in our order of ranking.
Originally published in 1983, this short poem of Maya Angelou is known for its theme of freedom and beautiful free verse. Using the metaphors of birds and putting two birds in parallel, she demonstrates the suffering of the African Americans and the privileges of the elite white class to show how they suffer in comparison to the white class. This extended metaphor is a voice of her community and its longing for freedom. She has packed the whole theme in six stanzas using a good rhyme scheme as well as free verse. Although both birds are living in separate situations, both depict the situation of two races locking horns with each other. Some of the best verses of this poem are as follows.
- The free bird leaps / on the back of the wind.
- But a bird that stalks / down his narrow cage / can seldom see through / his bars of rage.
- The caged bird sings / with fearful trill.
This short poem of Maya Angelou, originally published in 1995, is included here for its tremendous seductive poetic power and the voice of femininity crossing the boundaries of social conventions and stereotyping. In first-person narrative written in free verse, this poem presents her, the poet, as a wonderful woman who has various secrets which the women of the other races wonder. However, she lays bare all of her secrets saying that her physical shape is phenomenal which has made her a phenomenal woman. The repetition of “phenomenal” and its anaphoric use at the end of each stanza makes the poem a powerful poetic piece. Some of the best verses of this poem are as follows.
- Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
- The span of my hips / The stride of my step.
- Then they swarm around me / A hive of honeybees.
- They can’t touch / My inner mystery.
This short but very precise and forceful poem first appeared in 1978 but set the stage for the forcefulness of femininity. The poem has a beautiful rhyme scheme of tending, men, mop and shop, try and dry, feed and weed, and so on. The first-person poetic narrative of the poet recounts all the small tasks that a woman does at home for which she does not win the appreciation of the family members. Mana Angelou rather eulogizes these small tasks of domestic chores saying that she has still several things to do. Some of the best simple verses of this poem are as follows.
- I have floor to mop / The food to shop.
- Then see about the sick / And the cotton to pick.
- Fall gently, snowflakes / Cover me with white.
- You’re all that I can call my own.
A Brave and Startling Truth
The poem was published in 1995 in a small booklet. It was later included in her collection of poetry. It comprises twelve stanzas of varying lines with varying lengths. The inclusive start of the poem with first-person plural comes with a message of the end of social hostilities and longing for peace. She recounts popular places of Europe to convey her message of peace using different similes, metaphors, and forceful collective voice. She is of the view that as a crown of the creation, man must strive for peace and when we come to this point, it is all wonderful here on this planet. Some of the memorable lines of this poem are as follows.
- It is possible and imperative that we learn / A brave and startling truth
- When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders / And children dress their dolls in flags of truce.
- We, this people, on this small and drifting planet.
- We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world.
This lyrical poem first appeared in 1975 and set the stage for Angelou’s upcoming poems. The poem, though, presents the poet as being alone, it shows her weaving certain literary devices such as anaphora, repetition, consonants, and assonances into the structure of the poem. These devices have made the poem highly interesting and beautiful. Lyrical quality has not lost even in the end when the poem presents its final thesis that nobody alone can do everything as people are around you. Some of the best verses of this poem are as follows.
- How to find my soul a home / Where water is not thirsty.
- Nobody, but nobody / Can make it out here alone.
- The race of man is suffering / And I can hear the moan.
One of the best by Maya Angelou, ‘Still I Rise’ is included here for its powerful theme. It was written in 1978 during the social activism, in a first-person narrative tone. Angelou herself was involved in social activism at that time and was asserting the rights of her community. That is why she asserted that she will rise despite discrimination. Comprising seven stanzas, Angelous has used every other device that she could have thought to challenge the competitors that all of their plans to fail her would fail. Some of the best verses of this poem are as follows.
- You may write me down in history.
- Did you want to see me broken?
- You may shoot me with your words.
When I Think About Myself
This poem is counted among the best of the best and is known for the self-projection of Maya Angelou in her initial poetry. It was published in 1971. However, the best comes out in the use of literary devices such as metaphors in the stanza and then second and third. The poem is packed with the agony and suffering of the poet after looking at her race undergoing the world’s worst suppression in the United States in the name of segregation. Smilingly wryly, she sees her race growing the fruit but eating the rind, and this self-consciousness she has given to her race matters the most. Some of the best verses in these three stanzas are as follows.
- I almost laugh myself to death / My life has been one great big joke.
- I laugh until my stomach ache.
- I laughed so hard I nearly died.
Touched by an Angel
Brimmed with love, this short poem appeared in 1997 and has become one of the best poems of Maya Angelou. Within three stanzas, Maya Angelou has connected first-person plural with love saying that though we are not connected with it but connected with our loneliness, we have actually liberated ourselves. Its lightness and luxuriousness make a person feel light and bright. The main thesis of this poem is that love makes us free. The best verses of this poem are as follows.
- Love arrives /and in its train come ecstasies.
- Yet if we are bold / love strikes away the chains of fear.
- Yet it is only love / which sets us free.
Published in 1975, this poem is also considered the best poem by Maya Angelou. Although it comprises just three stanzas, she presents the whole story of slavery and the torture and oppression that the African Americans had had to undergo under western colonialism. Presenting Africa as an oppressed female, she is of the view that Africa has the best resources yet she has suffered the most. However, following consciousness among the African Americans, she is of the view that it is the time for the rise of the African continent now. The following lines have been declared best in the poem as given below.
- Thus she has lain / Black through the years.
- Churched her with Jesus / bled her with guns.
- Remember her pain / remember the losses.
Old Folks Laugh
Despite showing condescending undertones, this poem by Maya Angelou is considered the best about old age. She has presented almost all the issues, features, and attributes that an old person faces and has highlighted the beauty, comfort, and enjoyment that she derives from it. She also advises us to follow her. She has used different metaphors from the start to the end with assonances and consonances added with them to make the poem musical. She has presented the old people as having patience and tolerance. Some of the best verses from this poem are as follows.
- When old folks laugh, they free the world.
- They turn slowly, slyly knowing / the best and the worst.
- When old folks laugh, they consider the promise / of dear painless death.