Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, AILEY, BALDWIN, FLOYD, KILLENS, AND MAYFIELD, by MAYA ANGELOU

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

AILEY, BALDWIN, FLOYD, KILLENS, AND MAYFIELD, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

Maya Angelou’s “Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield” is a tribute poem to five influential Black artists: Alvin Ailey (choreographer and founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater), James Baldwin (writer and activist), John Henrik Clarke (historian and scholar), John Oliver Killens (novelist and professor), and Percy Mayfield (blues singer and songwriter). Through her poem, Angelou celebrates their contributions to Black culture and history.


The poem begins with an image of a dance performance by Alvin Ailey, with the speaker marveling at the “sunburst leaps” and “earthquake hips” of the dancers. The second stanza pays homage to James Baldwin and his writing, calling him a “prophet” and “apostle” who spoke truth to power. The third stanza focuses on John Henrik Clarke and his scholarship, praising his work in uncovering and disseminating Black history. The fourth stanza honors John Oliver Killens and his activism, referencing his involvement in the Civil Rights movement and his work with young Black writers. The final stanza pays tribute to Percy Mayfield, describing his music as a “new day breaking” and acknowledging his role in creating a distinctively Black sound.

Poetic Elements:

  1. Form: Free verse
  2. Theme: Celebrating the contributions of Black artists to culture and history
  3. Imagery: Vivid descriptions of dance movements and music
  4. Tone: Reverent and celebratory
  5. Sound: Repetition of the phrase “these men” to emphasize the interconnectedness of the artists being celebrated
  6. Language: Use of elevated language and metaphor to elevate the artists’ accomplishments
  7. Figurative language: Metaphors comparing the dancers to natural phenomena (sunburst, earthquake)
  8. Structure: Five stanzas, one for each artist being honored
  9. Symbolism: The use of dance, writing, scholarship, activism, and music as symbols of Black creativity and resistance
  10. Emotion: A sense of awe and admiration for the artists being celebrated.

First four lines:

The sun has come.

The mist has gone.

We see in the distance...

our long way home.

Comprehensive Conclusion:

In “Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield,” Maya Angelou pays tribute to five Black artists who have made significant contributions to culture and history. Through her vivid imagery, use of elevated language, and metaphors, she celebrates their creativity, resistance, and impact on the world. The poem’s structure and repetition emphasize the interconnectedness of their work, and the overall tone is one of reverence and celebration. Through this poem, Angelou encourages readers to honor and remember the achievements of Black artists and to recognize the importance of their work in shaping our collective culture and history.

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