By Maya Angelou

You declare you see me dimly
through a glass which will not shine,
though I stand before you boldly,
trim in rank and marking time.
You do own to hear me faintly
as a whisper out of range,
while my drums beat out the message
and the rhythms never change.
Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.
You announce my ways are wanton,
that I fly from man to man,
but if I’m just a shadow to you,
could you ever understand ?
We have lived a painful history,
we know the shameful past,
but I keep on marching forward,
and you keep on coming last.
Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.
Take the blinders from your vision,
take the padding from your ears,
and confess you’ve heard me crying,
and admit you’ve seen my tears.
Hear the tempo so compelling,
hear the blood throb in my veins.
Yes, my drums are beating nightly,
and the rhythms never change.
Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.

Summary of Equality

  • Popularity of “Equality”: Written by one of the best African American poets, Maya Angelou, this short and brisk poem “Equality” first appeared in her collection of poems I Shall not Be Moved. This volume of her poems appeared in 1990. The poem presents her thoughts about her own racial background coupled with her femininity and equality the African Americans won in the United States following a prolonged struggle. That is why the poem has won her global acclaim.
  • “Equality” As a Representative of Equality and Justice: The poet, who happens to be the speaker of the poem, states that the opponent standing in front of her could not see her though she is quite beautiful and bold. She declares that she does not find herself being heard though she is quite loud and clear and that her message has the same musical quality. The reason is that she wants equality and is free now. She objects to the opponent’s claim about her for having wanton behavior, but she is of the view that they have no understanding of her. It is because they do not recall her torturing history and her strong memory and she does it as she is now free and also equal to her opponents. Therefore, she advises her opponents to stop being prejudicial against her and should pay attention to her living soul and her beauty as she is now free and equal to them.
  • Major Themes in “Equality”: Celebration of freedom, objection against bias, and sense of femininity are major themes of this poem. Maya Angelou is very clear about the bias against African Americans, specifically against African American women for their playful and wanton behavior. However, she is quite open and free in her verses, celebrating her femininity and freedom simultaneously. This is her call to end the bias against African American women about their wanton behavior and promiscuity of flying from “man to man.” She is of the view that she is aware of her being a woman, having the painful history of slavery and “shameful past” behind them that make them aware of their position in society. Therefore, she wants to celebrate this newly won freedom and equality.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Equality

Maya Angelou’s use of various literary devices in a simple way has made her poetic output highly effective and enhanced the intended impact of the poem. Some of the major literary devices are analyzed below.

  1. Allusion: It means to use references from society, history, or culture to stress upon the main idea. The poet used implicit or indirect allusions to slavery, such as “painful history” and “shameful past.”
  2. Alliteration: It means to use initial consonants in successive words. The poem shows the use of consonant sounds, such as /w/ in “which will” or the sound of /f/ in “fly from.”
  3. Anaphora: It means to show the repetition of words or phrases in the beginning of consecutive verses. The poem shows the use of anaphora, such as “We…..” in the fourth stanza or “We have…” in the fifth stanza.
  4. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /i/ in “You declare you see me dimly” and the sound of /i/ and /a/ in “trim in rank and marking time.”
  5. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /m/ and /t/ in “while my drums beat out the message” and the sound of /r/ and /s/ in “Take the blinders from your vision.”
  6. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “We have lived a painful history”, “Take the blinders from your vision” and “Hear the tempo so compelling.”
  7. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet used the metaphor of a bird for an African American woman or for her such as “I fly from man to man.”
  8. Rhetorical Question: It means to show or use a question not to elicit an answer but to tress upon the main theme. The poem shows the use of a rhetorical question, such as “could you ever understand?
  9. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols, such as glass, time, drums, and rhythms to show the happiness of the poet over achieving equality and freedom.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Equality

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows good use of formal, poetic, and melodic diction.
  2. End Rhyme: It means to use verses having matching end words. Maya Angelou shows the use of end rhymes such as men/den and plough/now.
  3. Quatrain: It is a Persian stanza having four verses. The poem shows the use of a quatrain, such as the third stanza.
  4. Refrain: It is a poetic device and is the repetition of a verse at a regular pause in the poem or even at the end of a stanza. The poem shows the use of refrains such as “Equality, and I will be free.”
  5. Rhyme Scheme: This poem shows the rhyme scheme of ABABCDED in the first stanza, and the rest are different.
  6. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eight stanzas with a different number of verses.
  7. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows an exciting, reassuring, and happy tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when enjoying freedom and equality.

Equality, and I will be free.
Equality, and I will be free.