Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, A PLAGUED JOURNEY, by MAYA ANGELOU



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

A PLAGUED JOURNEY, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"A Plagued Journey" by Maya Angelou is a strikingly intimate yet universal portrayal of the human experience with hope and despair. The poem captures the internal battle between welcoming hope, which is likened to an invader, and resigning oneself to despair, symbolized as a dark prison. Angelou uses vivid imagery and a deeply emotive tone to grapple with these conflicting emotions.

The opening lines of the poem set the scene of silent anticipation, where "there is no warning rattle at the door / nor heavy feet to stomp the foyer boards." The narrator feels safe in her "dark prison," symbolizing an acceptance or at least a familiarity with despair. The peace of this state is suddenly disrupted by an "invader," which takes on the form of light, subtly entering the chamber as "sunrise, with Hope / its arrogant rider."

Hope, in this poem, is described as an unwelcome, arrogant visitor that forcibly enters one's personal space. The word "arrogant" implies that Hope often comes uninvited and is certain of its power over humans. In describing hope as invasive, Angelou provides an unconventional view. The conventional wisdom is that hope is a universally positive force, but Angelou suggests that hope can also be unsettling because it prompts change and demands emotional and psychological investment. It disrupts the known state, however despondent that may be.

The language Angelou employs is vividly corporeal, mentioning the "mouth agape" and "lungs hold," as well as a "bone / of fear" that clogs the throat. These physiological symptoms echo the physicality of emotional experiences, emphasizing how profoundly hope and despair affect the human body. The poem evokes an almost suffocating atmosphere where emotions are not just felt but viscerally experienced.

As Hope takes over, the narrator is "forced / outside myself to / mount the light and ride joined with Hope." Again, this isn't a joyful union but a forced one. Hope commands the narrator to abandon her comfort zone, to engage with the world outside her dark chamber. The narrator "clings to expectation" until she is eventually abandoned by Hope as "darkness comes to reclaim me / as its own."

The closing lines paint a bleak but intimate portrait of despair as it "laps lasciviously / between my toes, at my ankles, / and it sucks the strands of my / hair." This is despair not just as an emotional state but as a physical entity, almost a lover, that "forgives my heady / fling with Hope."

The journey that the title refers to is not necessarily a physical one but an emotional and psychological voyage between states of hope and despair. Angelou masterfully encapsulates the intense struggle that often accompanies attempts to move from darkness to light, from disconsolation to expectation.

In summary, "A Plagued Journey" serves as a poignant commentary on the cyclical, almost inescapable nature of hope and despair. Angelou employs rich imagery, symbolic contrasts, and evocative language to invite readers to reflect on the arduous nature of emotional transitions and the complexities of the human psyche.


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