a Friend Like Her
Natalia J. Garland
The author and poet, Maya Angelou, is a longtime friend of Senator
Hillary Clinton. While other people might use such a relationship to
write a tell-all book, exposing or embellishing the morbid secrets of
a rich-and-famous personality, Angelou wrote a poem of loyalty and
encouragement to Clinton. Perhaps this is because Angelou is a serious
writer and not a disgruntled politician, or perhaps because she is the
kind of friend we would all like to have: someone who stands by us when
we fail, sees our true potential, and gives us hope to go on.
Angelou's poem to Clinton begins as follows.
State Package for Hillary Clinton
Maya Angelou, 01/20/08
You may write me down in history
your bitter, twisted lies,
may tread me in the very dirt
still, like dust, I'll rise.
The above lines are
actually the first stanza of Angelou's well-known poem, "And Still
I Rise," written in 1978. It is now 30 years later and that poem
has since become the stuff of 9th-grade literature textbooks. The
message, however, is timeless and universal. The poem speaks to the
oppressed and maltreated, and to the ability of the human spirit to
overcome adversity. Senator Clinton, whether unfairly vilified or
rightfully criticized for the tactics and mistakes of her presidential
campaign, has lost. Right now, she has much to overcome: politically
as well as psychologically.
Back in 1993, when
Hillary Clinton became our nation's first lady, Angelou wrote a poem
for President Bill Clinton's inauguration. Let's go back and review
Angelou's 1993 message, and determine the poem's significance for 2008.
by Maya Angelou, 01/20/93
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
The River sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The Privileged, the Homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers--desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare,
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I the Rock, I the River, I the Tree,
I am yours--your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
summarizes the injustices of history, affirms the relationship among
humans, nature, and deity, and offers the American dream to all types
of people. Although Angelou would appear to be a firm Democrat, her
poem is non-partisan. In 1993 she might have felt that Bill Clinton
was the most qualified leader to create the conditions under which more
people could obtain basic necessities and reach toward self-fulfillment,
but she excludes no one from the pursuit of happiness. There is no
hostility toward history, no desire for revenge on the perpetrators of
cruelty, and no excuses for not accepting the freedoms for which others
The same poem could
have been written for President George W. Bush's inaugurations, and
it could be read again at the next inauguration in January, 2009.
That's because democracy, the general welfare, and personal happiness
require vigilance on the part of the citizenry. There are always new
yokes of brutishness to oppress and persecute those who are different
or who disagree. For example, some people feel that America has
reached the edge of traditional democracy and is entering
socialist-democracy (like Venezuela) or sovereign-democracy (like
Russia). Will Angelou or the old-school Democrats (like Lieberman)
find themselves in the waste and debris? Should Angelou, could
she, write another poem to save true Americana from dinosaur-like
extinction? Did Angelou's friend, Hillary Clinton, lose her way
under the seige of the new gold-seekers?
Where are the new
chances and new beginnings for mainstream, integrated, melting-pot
Americans? Have the ethno-political groups become so numerous and
splintered that America can no longer govern itself under traditional
democracy? Some people seem so unable to cope with our nation's
problems that they would be willing to submit to elitist
authoritarians: just give us food, housing, gasoline, and
entertainment, and you leaders can have all the power, riches, and
glory. Where are the new Maya Angelou's, T.S. Elliot's, Walt
Whitman's, or Emily Dickinson's? Where is the poetic conscience,
inspiration, and vision for 2008? Who is the friend of humanity?
Perhaps Americans need
to listen to the Rock and take a personal sojourn through history.
Let us not seek hiding places from our nation's problems, but instead
look out on each new day with hope. (Written 06/09/08: bibliography available.)
Until we meet