Awakening in New York

The poem ‘Awakening in New York is written by Maya Angelou. The poem looks like a person waking up in a city at the first reading but there are deeper concepts that needs to be explored and it will be understood only if it is read few more times.

About the Poet

Maya Angelou was born on April 4th 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. She was an acclaimed story teller, activist, poet and wrote her own story. She also had a career as an actress, dancer, singer and composer. She was also Hollywood’s first female black director. This multi-faceted person was most famous as a poet, playwright, essayist, editor and writer. She also served as Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. After playing all these roles she died on May 28th 2014 at the age of 86.


At the first reading, the reader feels that the poet is talking about waking up in a city. The poem is addressed in the first person as is evident in the line ‘I, an alarm, awake as a’. The winds are heavy and forcing itself upon the curtains and the curtains are bellowing out. Children are asleep and the poet imagines that they must be dreaming about ‘seraphim’. Seraphim are fairies mentioned in the Old Testament. While the children sleep blissfully the city ‘drags itself awake’. The poet who calls herself an alarm wakes as a ‘rumour of war’. She could not wake bright and happy but she lay there stretching into the early morning, nothing asked, nothing heeded. This is what can be summarised in the first reading. But the poet has more to convey. When the winds are strong alone the curtains rise up and this represents the turbulent mind of the poet. The poet compares herself to an inanimate object, an alarm. She is as lifeless as an alarm as she carries the thoughts of the hard times of the war. It can be that there is a big void left after the war and she is just like an alarm clock. It can also mean she is just a time machine moving on without pausing for anyone or anything. Such a person is so unlike a child who is sleeping careless about the world and seeing a lot of sweet dreams. The city of New York comes awake not with great enthusiasm but drags itself to the day and most of the city is seen in the subway. Amidst this hustle and bustle the poet does wake but does not want to join and desires to continue stretching in bed. Feelings of uselessness are conveyed in the final lines.


‘Awakening in New York’ is a free verse with eleven lines. The lines are small and there is no rhyme scheme. Enjambment is a device where the idea that begins in one line is carried on to the next. In the whole poem enjambment is used and in certain lines it even carries on to two lines.

children sleep,
exchanging dreams with

Alliteration is the repetition of words starting with the same letter in one line. The lines with alliteration are

subway straps; and

unasked and unheeded.

The imagery of the curtains rising against the will indicates the strength of the wind and it is also suggests the turbulence in the mind of the poet. The tone of the poem is that of resignation to the ways of life. The poet is so disengaged from life despite of being in the liveliest city of the world, New York.