‘Phenomenal Woman’ is a lyrical poem that has a message for the world that empowerment of woman comes from being confident no matter how you look. ‘Phenomenal Woman’ is found in the collection of poems titled ‘And Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou that was published in 1978.
About the poet
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 to May 28 2014) was a prolific writer whose workswere very popular. They were popular because she depicted the strength of women and the power of human spirit. She was also a social activist calling out for social justice for all. She was inspired Dr.Martin Luther King and became a part of the civil rights struggle. Angelou also wrote her autobiographies and even had a career in television and films. She was nominated for Emmy award for her performance in ‘Roots in 1977’. She was multi-faceted personality who died at the age of 86.
The poet addresses pretty women in the first stanza. The pretty women wonder at the secret of the poet. She is very plain looking, not cute or fashionable yet she is sought after. Even when she lets them into her secret they don’t believe it. She says it is the reach of her arms, the span of her hips, the confidence in her stride, the curl of her lip. All this makes her a true woman and as she calls herself ‘a phenomenal woman’. In the next stanza she is addressing men who are instinctively attracted to her. Some worship her, ‘Fall down on their knees’, some swarm around her like bees wondering what her charm is. And to them she says it is the fire in her eyes, the charm of her smile, the swing of her waist and the joy in her step. All this makes her a true woman and as she calls herself ‘a phenomenal woman’. In the third stanza she reiterates that men are left wondering what they see in her. They try to understand the mystery but the poet says that they cannot touch her. Her reply to them was that her mystery lay in the arch of her back, the sun in her smile, ride of her breasts, and the grace in her style. Yes she was a phenomenal woman. The last stanza is addressed to the reader and she only reaffirms her dignified approach here. She does not bow her head or shout and talk to be heard. When people see her passing, it makes them feel proud for knowing such a woman. She goes on to list a few outward experiences that make her special. She says it was the bend of her hair and the palm of her hand. What was most striking were her energy and her care for the world. She was indeed a remarkable woman which in her words were a ‘phenomenal woman’.
The poem ‘Phenomenal Woman’ has 75 lines split into 4 stanzas. Each stanza has varying number of lines. There is no specific rhyme scheme but there are many end rhymes in the poem. Some of them are ‘loud, proud; hair, care; hips, lips; knees, bees; much, touch’. There meter is varied, a mix of three meters. There is repetition of lines almost like a refrain. One is a very short line ‘I say’ and the other is
I’m a woman
Men falling around her are compared to bees swarming the hive and the device used is a metaphor. The imagery created is that of proud and dignified woman. This poem of Maya Angelou stands a testimony to her own words 'A wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim.'