Personification gives human qualities to non-human things; this technique allows communicators to create meaning and extract lessons from such elements that we humans can understand. It creates visualization and sympathy, among other qualities.
Dr. Angelou personifies Nature in this powerful, evocative work. Why would she? Perhaps she did this because in the normal course of events, we do not pay much attention, certainly political, ethical, or sociological attention, to rocks, rivers, or trees. They’re just there, we assume. However, giving them voice as Dr. Angelou does allows these elements of Nature the ability to evoke extraordinary human concerns, which is characteristic of the Romantic Period of literature.
The Rock cries, which indicates an alarm, a call to attention and awakening for us to take stock of where we have been and where we are headed. The River sings, which allures and moves us to observe the foolishness of greedy nationalism; then, the song turns to rebuke and a call to social action.
Music appeals to our emotions, and as the reader becomes enrapt in the song, we are suddenly directed to observe the ugly way we have polluted the River’s shores, symbolic of how society has polluted the dignity of humanity with bigotry and hatred borne of ego. Such lower level energies attract even lower ego energies, which will always result in more unfavorable issues like war and destruction. Our history is littered with these as reflected by the littered banks of the River.
Maya Angelou chose these images to leverage power to call us and move us to awaken. If we are to have any hope of movement towards societal progress, then we must hear Nature herself. We, apparently, have not acquired the sense the Rock, River, and Tree have to offer.
What Can We Learn from a River’s Song?: Maya Angelou’s Personification of Nature
Reading this poem of Maya Angelou’s, so reminiscent of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and British Romantics in many ways, we wonder at the message this poem conveys, still applicable, now more than ever. The choice to personify elements of Nature like “the Rock, the River, the Tree” reveals Spirit-essence in all. The energies of life beat, vibrate, radiate from all in this Universe and wait to be tapped for their wisdom. We raise our minds, souls, and bodies to perceive these frequencies by choosing to hear heart, discover self, and create purpose — and humbly learn.
From the Rock’s testimony of the past, observations of the present, and prophecy of the future, we read and seamlessly slide into the voice of the River: “Across the wall of the world, / A river sings a beautiful song…” The River offers her shores, a place to consider her appeals to the soul.
Rivers have special insights into the ignoble motives that have caused men to form nations, since rivers often are considered boundaries. Much wisdom in listening to the river’s song! (Photo by Paula May on Unsplash)Not many of us consider the unnatural boundaries humanity has traced on the face of globes and maps, those shapes and entities defined by us as nations. To ego, they offer a sense of security in separation, arbitrary lines that many interpret as “This far and no further; we are better than you.” Quite often, rivers demarcate the borders: “Each of you a bordered country / Delicate and strangely made proud / Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.” One of the functions of ego is to isolate.
The existence of nations indicates ego-energy. Their existence illustrates how people, mostly men, deliberately chose ego and denied heart in establishing distinctions that create discord and, ultimately, war. From an ego standpoint, the military and declarations of war show strength; only delicate egos evaluate such blustering as strength.
Strong statement? The river would agree, wouldn’t it, Maya? The river’s estimate of nations recognizes that they are “delicate and strangely made proud…” Because they are artificial, they are weak, “delicate,” frail. They rise and fall, sometimes overnight — no cause for pride; therefore, this is strange and unnatural to the river.
Oh, yes, this is River’s intended message — no doubting: the nations are “thrusting perpetually under siege.” The unbridled expressions of hyper-nationalism seen both now in alarming expansion and throughout history in many countries might make egotists think they are powerful, but they’re not. They make no true peace with their constant cycles of war. Truly strong nations would not have to fight endlessly. Of course, examples of such nations are hard to find.
Why? The ability to wage wars — the only possible result of ego-fueled nationalism — is certainly not based on heart-energy. Rather, this penchant for flexing muscles derives from this: “Your armed struggles for profit / Have left collars of waste upon / My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.” The River frames her song not only with the beauty of passion but also with the accrued evidence, the facts of the detritus polluting its essence, the detritus of waging war for profit.
“Study war no more,” come in peace, and hear sweeter songs. (Photo by Anh Vyon Unsplash)Nature ravaged by the ego-choices of humanity, the unabashed dash for wealth, power, and control, results in death and destruction. The River has witnessed war from the inception of nations from its unique vantage point of being a border.
How can we learn the lessons from such keen observation, such deep wisdom? “If you will study war no more.” But what about them? What about the threats? What about those who won’t give us what we want? What about…? Keep asking the questions. The answer is the same: “Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs…” They are songs of peace, harmony, and natural order, the natural laws in place from the beginning “when I / And the tree and the stone were one.”
The founders of the United States of America expressed these tenets of natural law in their work, even though the reality of much of that law escaped them in practice, witnessed by the inhumane treatment of Indigenous Peoples and the fostering of slavery of Africans and others.
However, heart-energy observes these natural laws of human dignity, respect and care for the environment, equality, and freedom. Those in the fellowship of the heart know that individuals must have the opportunity to discover self and create purpose based on those parameters. They can, though, be protected by laws that harmonize with natural law. Progress in a nation framed by heart-energy should be marked by continued awakening and sensitivity to the messages of Nature and the pleas of activists like Dr. King and authors like Dr. Angelou.
When were these laws enacted? “Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow / And when you yet knew you still knew nothing.” No ego arguments, no rationalizations, no alarmist fears, no hubris and pounding of chests. River, in its ever-flowing course, has a song to sing to us of peace, harmony, and natural law, a song of heart-energy, Spirit itself. Cynicism reeks of superiority, breeds bigotry, and creates unhappiness. What response would tend to a harmonious flow, a peaceful society? Admitting we don’t know everything and all ideas are worthy of consideration.
There is no virtue in knowing everything, because no one does; even if anyone believes they know most everything about the most “important” things, they are liars and self-deceivers. All the unyielding political stances and always being right begin the pollution of the River. A false sense of omniscience is ego’s feeble attempt to control our world.
While some elements of humanity continue boastful foolishness, they do not and cannot stop the melody, for “The river sings and sings on.” Nature’s voice will not be silenced as long as we exist; its testimony exposes ego and evokes heart-energy to challenge us to experience life.
We can learn, create peace, and restore beauty. (Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash)The evidence of heart within each of us is found here with the River: “There is a true yearning to respond to / The singing river and the wise rock.” The fact that many of us long for a swift end to foolish ego hostilities and learn from Nature shows heart-energy operates in us and longs for productive peace. We want to respond. Hope.
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!