Analysis of “Phenomenal Woman” Poem by Maya Angelou

Phenomenal Woman“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou is a lyrical poem originally published in her collection of poems “And Still I Rise” in 1978. This poem, along with “Still I Rise” and the rest of the entire collection, was meant to be an important message against stereotypes and for the empowerment of women.

Maya Angelou was a famous civil rights activist and poet. She won many awards for her work over a fifty year period. For many Americans, she is most noted for having recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration on January 20, 1993. For others, she is most noted for her outspokenness about her history as a sex worker, journalist, fry cook, and as a coordinator for an African American civil rights organization.

Let’s take a quick look at a summary of Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” and then have a look at some figurative language she uses and an analysis of the writing.

Summary

“Phenomenal Woman” is a lyrical poem about a woman who knows she isn’t pretty or cute but still knows why people pay attention to her when she walks into a room. It goes through how pretty women don’t believe her reasons and why even men deny it, but she knows the truth: she is sexy. The way she walks, the way she smiles, and the curves of her body make people of all genders stare at her when she walks through a room. She ends by saying people should feel lucky that they get to see such a sight.

Analysis

Title: Phenomenal Woman
Style: Lyrical poem
Theme: Being a woman
Tone: Pride
Rhyme scheme: None

Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language

    • Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. – She’s obviously not talking about herself. She’s speaking directly about other women.
    • 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. – The pretty women often ask her questions, which likely is about why men think she is sexy. They know she’s not cute or skinny, so they wonder why the men find her so attractive. When she tells them, they think she is lying.
    • It’s in the reach of my arms, / The span of my hips, / The stride of my step, / The curl of my lips. – She’s basically saying facial looks aren’t everything. The length of her arms, her hip size, the way she walks, and the way she smiles are what men find attractive.
    • I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me. – She’s a fantastic woman.
    • 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.– When she walks into a room, men start to drool over her.
    • 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. – She tells the pretty women that it’s the look she gives in her eyes, her big smile, the way she moves her hips, and the way she walks.
    • Men themselves have wondered / What they see in me. – Even men question why they like her. She isn’t pretty nor cute.
    • They try so much / But they can’t touch / My inner mystery. – They can’t figure out why they like her.
    • When I try to show them, / They say they still can’t see. – She tries to show her smile and walk, but they still don’t believe that’s why they like her.
    • 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. – She says it is her curves and moves.
    • Now you understand / Just why my head’s not bowed. – Bowing of the head is usually a sign of being shy.
    • I don’t shout or jump about / Or have to talk real loud. – She doesn’t need to do anything special to get people to notice her.
    • When you see me passing, / It ought to make you proud. – When she walks by, you should be happy.
    • It’s in the click of my heels, / The bend of my hair, / the palm of my hand, / The need for my care. – It’s the way she walks, the curls of her hair, the touch of her hand, and the need to have her caring for you.

Poem: “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
Phenomenally.
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
Phenomenally.

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
Phenomenally.
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
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Reader’s Reaction

“Phenomenal Woman” is the strength every woman should have inside them. Confidence, pride, and unwavering sexuality are some of the most powerful things anyone can have. Of course, in today’s age, some of what is written here might be quite shocking. Angelou is essentially stating that people notice her because of her sexiness and not because of anything else. The other women don’t believe her when she says it and we can’t exactly be sure as to why. With her previously being a sex worker, that might have something to do with her image perception and why other women wouldn’t believe her when she would say that her smile is why men enjoy looking at her.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.