Explore how the poems ‘still I rise ‘ and ‘strange fruit’ represent the experiences of the black woman/man
The poems ‘strange fruit’ written by Abel Meeropol (Lewis Allen) 1937 and “still I rise’ written by Maya Angelou both convey the racism which fell upon the lives of many black individuals. Abel Meeropol although was not of black heritage was provoked to the hatred of the unjust crimes situated amongst the black race, he also emphasizes his hatred for the people who perpetuate the circumstances that they were put under.
Maya Angelou on the other hand was from a black heritage, and has been a part of the black race, gave her writing which explored the inequalities of the black female and the black man, a more defiant feel, whereas Abel’s outsiders perspective of the black man/woman is not as harsh.
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The way each poem has been structured was specific to the manner in which both Abel Meeropol and Maya Angelou wanted it to be presented to the reader. ‘Strange fruit’ was written in 3rd person which gave the piece an outsider’s perspective, whereas ‘still I rise’ was written in 1st person this gave the poem a first-hand perspective of the piece. ‘Still, I rise’ also uses a 2nd person pronoun, which gives the piece a direct appeal to the reader, creating assumptions that the white man is reading it. This grabs the reader and plays with the reader’s guilt.
The use of metaphors and similes in each poem helps the reader engage their mind to imagine the scene of the poem. In the opening lines of ‘strange fruit,’ there is the use of metaphors, for example, ‘southern trees bear a strange fruit’ strange is the first line of this poem. The word strange is the first word that hits you. It implies that what is going on is something not normal or something that just doesn’t happen in the civilized world. The south had a culture that was not like anywhere else in America at the time. Abel wanted the reader to see what he was talking about as illogical.
Fruit brings to mind beautiful sweet things. He was implying that things that look good on the outside could actually be strange and rotten underneath. What this is telling us is that the southern trees are being referred to the white community of southern states and the strange fruits are being referred to the black man/woman. Now if we look at the opening lines to “Still I rise” there is a simile and a metaphor in the opening stanza which is at the end of the stanza “you may tread me in the very dirt but still, like dust, I’ll rise” this line represents the physical and verbal inequality of the black man/woman. The metaphoric explanation of comparing herself to dust then stating “I’ll rise” is her way of saying through all the hardship she will succeed.
The language and choice of vocabulary each writer has selected varies from the juxtaposed negativity and positivity each poem portrays. ‘Blood on the leaves and blood at the root’ in this line here there is repetition on the word blood, this is to emphasize the image of murder. The following line ‘Black boy swingin’ in the southern breeze’ is in an almost casual tone, this purposely makes the image of murder shocking. The use of boy in this line, suggests the innocence and vulnerability of the black men/women, who faced the circumstances of that period in time.
As we move on in both poems the choice of tone helps us the readers to thoroughly understand the mood and scene the black man/woman may have been in or faced. The next stanza of “Still I rise” portrays the juxtaposition mentioned earlier. “Pastoral scene of the gallant south”. The first line of this stanza uses the words “pastoral” and “gallant”. Pastoral should convey a pleasant image of country life and its surroundings and gallant means courteous and brave, so the first line creates a pleasant scene for the reader; however, this line is in direct contrast with the following line as the mood changes dramatically to show the complete opposite of mood “The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth”.
This change in mood is Abel trying to show the wrongness of the acts being practiced, it gives an image of going against the way of nature. The mood is once again repetitively changed. “Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh. And the sudden smell of burning flesh” here Abel is showing the two contrasting faces of the South. On the surface, the air is sweet and fresh but if you want to scratch away a bit at the surface you will find death. This is another line to show the hypocrisy of people at that at the time. Further down the poem “Still I rise” we come across Maya engaging the reader in her conflicts with the use of rhetorical questions. “Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset in gloom?” Maya doesn’t expect an answer but she asks these questions to thought provoke the reader.
The rhyming scheme of “Still I rise ” is A B C B. this is song-like rhyming couplets. This rhyming scheme was used to reminisce the soulful singing of the black male or female that would sing when working for their white masters. Whereas in “Strange fruit” the rhyming scheme is A A B B C C this rhyming scheme gives a pace to the poem.
The shape of the poem changes at the 8th stanza, which is also the closing stanza. The effect of the change in shape is evident in the first line. “Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise” the tone also changes at this line, it gets serious.
The last stanza brings closure to the experiences that the black man/woman has faced. “I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, welling and swelling I bear in the tide.” This indicates her being emphatic she compares herself to the ocean this suggests the combining of strength representing the black woman. “leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise” Maya here is leaving behind her past and the rest of the poem conveys a sense of pushing forwards into a bright future. On the other hand, the last stanza, in “strange fruit” portrays the process of decaying implying a cycle of life.
“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck.
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck.
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop.
Here is a strange and bitter crop”
This final stanza shows the ignorance of the people who are leaving the acts that occurred to happen; in addition, it suggests that the word rot metaphorically resembles the community.
Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ reveals her relationship with history and the body’s relationship with the earth. Having a black heritage, she knows the importance and cruel irony of history. She also correlates how the body can be put and driven into the ground, but eventually, it decomposes and humans turn into earth, like soil and dust. Maya Angelou tells how she is above lies and oppression, and ‘like dust, I’ll rise.’ She goes on to ask rhetorical questions to the reader.
Her attitude as a confident, sassy, African American woman is out of the norm for society. Abel Meeropol’s ‘Strange Fruit’ symbolizes disapproval and also homage to the black man/woman who was the victim of hanging in the South. At the same time, it represents the indecency of the practice, as an ironic, defiant, and bitter treatment.
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