Phenomenal Woman

Phenomenal Woman

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Summary of Phenomenal Woman

Popularity: “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou is one of the finest poems published in 1995.  Maya breaks the stereotypes associated with women and presents a new definition of a phenomenal woman, who is beautiful despite her skin color.  The poem was originally written to admire the beauty and self-confidence of a woman.  However, since the time of publication, it has become a popular literary piece on account of its superb description of an independent colored woman.

“Phenomenal Woman” as Stereotypical World: This poem is written to rejoice the real beauty of the women. Maya Angelou presents a critical message to the world of the stereotype that the empowerment of a colored woman lies in her confidence and not in her skin color. The expression of beauty marks the center of the poem. However, what stays in the mind of the reader is that women are self-conscious about the way they look and dress, the poem proposes women to embrace self-confidence.

Major Themes in “Phenomenal Woman”: The poem comprises of speaker’s opinion on woman’s beauty. She refuses the idea that a woman should possess a beautiful physique.  She rejects the stereotype of beauty that emphasizes the looks instead of inner beauty. She believes that beauty lies within. The tone confirms that the speaker is confident about her looks and her personality, and she does not care what people think of her. She also details the qualities needed to be a phenomenal woman.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Phenomenal Woman”

literary devices serve as a tool for writers to bring clarity and richness. With the help of literary devices, they not only give underlying meanings to their texts but also make their texts unique and appealing. Maya has also exercised this artistic skill in this poem using various literary devices. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Metaphor: There are two metaphors in the poem. First is used in the second stanza where it is stated, “Then they swarm around me, / A hive of honey bees.” Maya compares the admiring men with honey bees. The men surround her, as they are attracted to her. The second one is used in the eighth line of the second stanza where it is stated, “it’s the fire in my eyes,” and here she compares her confidence and passion with fire.
  2. Hyperbole: A hyperbole is used to exaggerate a particular condition or situation. Maya has used hyperbole in the start of the second stanza, “I walk into a room just as cool as you please, / and to a man, / The fellows stand or fall down on their knees.” Through this hyperbole, she shows her superiority over men.
  3. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers feel things through their five senses. Maya Angelou has skillfully created a visual description of a phenomenal woman who enjoys her beauty and loves being a woman. The images in this poem are aplenty. The examples of images are: “The curl of my lips”, “The swing of my waist”, “The ride of my breast”, “The stride of my steps”, “The flash of my teeth”, “and The palm of my hand.” The poet has used powerful imagery to describe the body of a woman. These images help readers to visualize the personality of a strong woman.
  4. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech that states the opposite meanings of the situation being discussed. Similarly, the poet presents the image of a woman according to her perception in contrast with the opinion of the world. She beautifully mocks at the concept of beauty held by most people in the society which is primarily concerned with external beauty. Hence, she emphasizes that real beauty comes with inner strength and poise.
  5. Personification: Maya has used a personification that means to use emotions for inanimate objects. She has personified joy in the third stanza of the poem where it is stated, “the joy in my feet” as if feet are human, and that they rejoice while dancing or walking.
  6. Alliteration: An alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same lines of the poetry such as the use of /f/ in “fall”, “fire” and “flash.” This use has enhanced the musical quality of the lines.
  7. Assonance: An assonance is a repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line such as the sounds of /i/ in “its fire in my eyes”.

Concluding the literary analysis, it can be argued that Maya has beautifully used different literary devices to present a powerful image of a woman’s beauty.

 Analysis of Poetic Devices in Phenomenal Woman

Although most of the poetic devices are same as the literary devices, a few of them differ, for they highlight the structure of the poem. The analysis of some of the prominent poetic devices in the poem is given below.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. In this poem, there are four stanzas with each stanza having a different number of verses.
  2. Rhyme Scheme: There is no specific rhyme scheme used in this poem. It is a free verse poem. The meter of the poem is a combination of Trochee and Iamb which means a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables or alternately of unstressed and stressed syllables.
  3. Repetition: Repetition creates musical quality in the poem. The poem has used repetition at various places such as “The Phenomenal Woman” and “that’s me.” These two phrases are repeated in each stanza.
  4. Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The phrases “phenomenal woman” and “that’s me” has become refrain because of the repetition of the same words in each stanza of the poem.

The analysis of the poem shows that Maya Angelou’s use of the poetic devices and unique style has presented herself as a strong, confident, and bold.

 Quotations for Usage from Phenomenal Woman

The verse given below can be used to teach young children about self-confidence, especially to young girls. You can also teach them how to respect themselves and be at their best behavior at all times.

“Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about.”