Dr. King addressed social justice issues with direct, powerful, organized action, action intended not to incite riot but rather to incite love, forgiveness, healing, and equality. He wanted all to know freedom and have the opportunity to pursue happiness. He worked through direct social actions.
Maya Angelou knew Dr. King, and his work and death affected her deeply. After hearing him speak in Harlem in 1960, she produced a play with others and sent the proceeds to Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This involvement eventually led her to be named the coordinator of the northern district of the Conference. During that time, she met Dr. King and later would say of him, “It is a great blessing to have lived in the time of Martin Luther King Jr., when forgiveness and generosity of spirit encouraged our citizenry to work for a better world for everybody” (Park. https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-maya-angelou-martin-luther-king-jr-20180404-story.html by Brian Park).
Great people of heart energy tend to inspire others who desire to live in that same vein of love. Maya Angelou did not go on to engage in overt social actions; she created her purpose to write and express her creativity and heart in other ways to live and encourage love.
Of all her works which could be discussed and analyzed, the following poem read from her famous recitation of “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 harmonizes with the previous chapters on “Letter from Birmingham City Jail.”
The resonance with the messages of Dr. King and the literary movement of Romanticism calls for looking deeper into the human experience, beyond artifice and even science — exploring what it means to be us and how we relate to one another and this whole universe. Nature speaks to us, and if we listen, we may respond.
I would recommend listening to Maya Angelou’s poem before or in conjunction with the following chapters: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59xGmHzxtZ4).
“On the Pulse of Morning”: Maya, History, Nature, and Us
Maya Angelou observes the state of humanity and responds to it through the natural elements of “A Rock, A River, A Tree.”
The wisdom of the Rock tells us, basically, we have a lot to learn, the lessons are written large, and we can’t hide.
Why would she do this? It’s a literary tradition, but that’s not the reason. The reason it’s a literary tradition is the reason. Nature is the reason. The lessons Nature has to teach us are the reasons. Our intimate connection with, relationship to, and dependence on Nature is the reason.
The Romantic period writers of the past often used Nature to reflect the inner emotional state of humans, especially, as Maya does here, to expose the conditions of society or simply illustrate them. The Romantics were initiators of social change; the energy of their work fueled awareness and even some legislation. We are often slow to learn. We still need the lessons and always will; Dr. Maya Angelou knows that.
In the first eight lines of the poem, Maya introduces the Rock, River, and Tree as observers of history for eons, since the beginning of this planet Earth. They witnessed the life, approaching doom, and extinction of the mastodon adn dinosaurs. Is this foreshadowing, or does it predict others in danger of extinction, like humanity? Not if we listen to the wisdom of these elements of Nature, the ones to which we wouldn’t normally ascribe wisdom.
And the Rock, River, and Tree point out that while we may see the dry bones of dinosaurs like those to which the Rock refers, what we have failed, Failed, FAILED to see — to perceive, to intuit, to conclude — is the “broad alarm of their hastening doom.” We did not witness the process of the destructive dynamics involved in the extinction of the dinosaur or mastodon, but we may recognize the pattern in studying them.
Therefore, they will tell us, and we may learn, be warned, and rise to respond to the alarm, to all the alarms around us now.
“[T]he Rock cries out to us” by offering a vantage point. We are invited to stand upon its back, its solid, sure, unshakable back. For what reason? What purpose would that serve? Rock tells us that we “may stand upon [his] / Back and face [our] distant destiny.” We can see, know, perceive, and respond — if we would use Nature for the learning.
What might that imply? The Rock has a purpose that has not changed: it is firm, unmoving, and collects evidence of history. Therefore, the rock asks us, in essence, what our purpose is.
We have the ability to reason, being on a scale of creation “only a little lower than / The angels.” Our natural state here is one of peace, acceptance, kindness, and compassion in the face of difficulties. We have the ability to work through challenges and resolve conflicts to the end of freedom, freedom to love one another, to live in light, preserve human rights, and create as divinity.
We cannot claim ignorance; the witness of our Heart exposes the darkness of ugly greed for always being the best. Freedoms, rights, and love should guide our society — or we will be those bones in others’ museums.( Photo by fan yangon Unsplash)The alarm of our doom, as the mastodon’s did, billows around us, and if not heeded, we will join the dust of ages past. The rock observes that we “have crouched too long in / The bruising darkness, / Have lain too long / Face down in ignorance.” In the ignorance of ego, we have forsaken heart-energy of love, light, peace, creative enthusiasm, empathy, compassion, and all those emotions and qualities of the higher frequencies of life. When we remain willingly ignorant, we lose knowledge, energy, and dignity. We lose the primary focuses of life which we came here to enjoy.
Furthermore, the Rock tells us we should recognize the approach of our doom in the warlike atmosphere that grips the nations of Earth: “Your mouths spelling words / Armed for slaughter.”
War, destruction, and hatred are ego-energies. We have ego, and it helps form us by evoking creative tension; however, we have heart, eternal Spirit as the mature operating system, the one we came to live. We have the ability to think, explore, and discover. War, hatred, bullying, bravado, and boastful power are ego-energies we may rise above through toggling to the Heart Operating System. We need not remain in ignorance, an ignorance often adorned with the fineries of politics, government, and military considerations. No, peace does not sound from throats of nationalism or from those who trample everyone and everything to get to the bottom line.
The rock tells us we can gain a vantage point to discern all this, and it willingly offers itself to us. The warning, though, is we have no right to hide at its base, in its shadow, to continue living in the low vibrations of ego and claim that is human nature. It’s not. It’s a choice of which nature: ego or heart.
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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!