“Touched by An Angel” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s “Touched by An Angel”:

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.

Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

I was struck by how beautifully written this poem is. Granted, Maya Angelou is known for her skill as a poet, but I loved the grace and elegance in which love is described. Rather than be some everyday event, love is depicted as some holy thing, one that brings about pleasure and pain, something that pushes us to be beyond what we are.

One interesting thing about the poem is the choice of structure. Stanza 1 has six lines, while Stanza 2 has seven, and Stanza 3, eight. Through this, there is a progression that matches the change in content. The first stanza describes humanity, how while alone we are lonely and don’t know what it means to be brave, until first introduced to love, then it moves on to discuss the effects of love and how to liberate ourselves using it, and the third stanza shows the purity of love and how it ultimately frees us. While the first stanza is more constricted, like the topic of people without love, the second stanza mirrors a looseness mirroring the introduction of love; restricted by memories of pain and pleasure, which could potentially hold us back, until the third stanza reveals the ultimate freedom of love and how we are stronger with it.

Another interesting choice Angelou makes is to repeat sounds throughout the poem. While there is no rhyming, which would create almost a singsong sound to the poem, and through that, possibly make the poem sound less mature, adding to the high-pedestaled Love.Through the repetition of sounds, there is a soothing, peaceful feel, which only adds to the idea of loving being a freeing concept.

As far as possible shortcomings, I can’t really think of anything.

One Reply to ““Touched by An Angel” by Maya Angelou”

  1. Hi Alexa,
    Thanks for sharing this poem! I’ve never read it before.
    I like how you paid attention to the sounds happening here. A few semesters ago Lytton ran a workshop which focused on sound in poetry. I find myself drawn to musical language such as this. I think the “s” sounds in this piece really string it together, and give it a “smooth” reading.
    I notice how Angelou wrote the word “love” at least six times in this piece. Six! I know, as poets, we are supposed to try and avoid words that are as abstract as love. What do you think the effect of repeating the word “love” does? I’m going to copy and paste the piece but delete all the “love”s.

    We, unaccustomed to courage
    exiles from delight
    live coiled in shells of loneliness
    until ____ leaves its high holy temple
    and comes into our sight
    to liberate us into life.

    ____ arrives
    and in its train come ecstasies
    old memories of pleasure
    ancient histories of pain.
    Yet if we are bold,
    _____ strikes away the chains of fear
    from our souls.

    We are weaned from our timidity
    In the flush of ____’s light
    we dare be brave
    And suddenly we see
    that ____ costs all we are
    and will ever be.
    Yet it is only ______
    which sets us free.

    What if the word love was never in this piece? I think many of the images are strong enough that we don’t necessarily need it.
    Wondering what others think about cutting abstract words!
    -ari

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