Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
the swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
what they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
the need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.


Maya Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman”, is a compelling form of art. Angelou tends to write about topics that are often disregarded and unexplored by others. Her poem illustrates the love a woman has for herself even though she isn’t considered beautiful. The language and tone indicate that the speaker was abused. Her pride has risen from the torture and neglect she experienced. Instead of being ashamed and blaming herself, she has gained hope.

The scholarly essay by Kelly Holland Cecil analyzes the key concepts of the poem and notes Angelou’s inspiration and the general patterns that can be found throughout her poetry. Cecil notes the generalization of Angelou’s usage of personal experience and history, “Much of Angelou’s poetry, almost entirely short lyrics, expresses in strong, often jazzy rhythms, themes common to the life experiences of many American blacks – discrimination, exploitation, being on welfare. Other poems deal with social issues and problems which, though not unique to blacks, are explored from a black perspective.”

In my own analysis I discovered that Maya Angelou mostly writes from experience, and this poem falls perfectly in that category. She faced constant discrimination as a woman, particularly an African American woman. She also thought that she was never terribly pretty. She allowed this dissatisfaction to grow, but when she became older she killed it with the sense of pride she gained. As a child, Angelou was sexually abused. When she told her family about the terrible occurrence, the man was killed. She chose to remain silent for the next five years, because she believed that her words had killed the man. Her silence has taught her the power and capabilities that words possess, and she clearly evokes that notion in this poem. Though she was abused as a child, she has grown into a talented woman. Kelly Cecil writes, “The persona in this poem is a strong, confident woman.  Lyman B. Hagen states, ‘The woman described is easily matched to the author herself.  Angelou is an imposing woman– at least six feet tall.  She has a strong personality and a compelling presence as defined in the poem’.” This poem can closely relate to the pride she has found by loving herself regardless of what others think.   

The poem uses a repetitive pattern in each stanza. Angelou starts the stanza with a description of someone’s reaction to the woman as they notice her. The reactions are all categorized by wonderment. They question why she is so happy and what others see in her. The stanzas continue by developing the persona. The person is described as a vivacious woman. Kelly Cecil describes Angelou’s purpose for her descriptions by stating: “She uses such imagery so that the proud, confident persona can be better understood.” The descriptions contribute to the way the person sees herself: as a beautiful woman. Each stanza ends with the same four lines. Cecil notes; “Maya Angelou uses repetition in this poem to stress certain phrases.  An example of this is ‘I’m a woman / Phenomenally. / Phenomenal woman, / That’s me’.” They reassure the reader that the person described loves who is she by restating that she is a phenomenal woman.

Angelou gives the feeling of a hidden frustration and anger at the men and women who question the subject’s self-confidence. But overall Maya Angelou gives praise to the woman who loves herself.


One Response to “Phenomenal Woman Analysis”
  1. Jane Hazle says:

    Good work locating scholarly support for your analysis of this poem and weaving it into your own ideas. You show clearly how biography intersects with this poem and illuminates its power for the reader.

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