Maya Angelou and Remembering Words

Due to the recent passing of Maya Angelou, I have been thinking about her words lately, particularly her well-known quote pertaining to one’s legacy: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

She was talking about life, about human interactions and how kindness is the greatest legacy we can leave behind, but it made me also think about a writer’s legacy. As a poet and an author, she leaves behind a legacy made of words. Those who knew her personally shall surely remember her kindness in action, but once they, too, are gone, we shall be left with the words still.

I think when we remember poems, we primarily remember it with emotions tied to it. A poet uses words and rhythm and sound to make us feel, just as a lyricist does with a song (not all songwriter/lyricists are poets, of course, but some are). We remember the music, even when we can’t remember the words, and I think we remember the emotions or plot of poetry even when we can’t remember the words.

At the same time, without the words, there could be no emotion. If we don’t remember the words, we cannot share our feelings with others. We need to remember powerful words —words like “We the People of the United States…,” words like “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation…,” words like “What is man, that thou art mindful of him…,” and words like “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’”

We live in an age when it is no longer as popular as it once was to memorize and quote poems, but we know the words to songs still, quoting them and even singing along when the music so inspires us. I wonder if some of this has come about because we no longer value the spoken word as much as we once did. Our attention span has shortened to where we are only captivated by images, music, and movement. A single voice, speaking out in the silence, never happens because there is no longer silence. We fill our silence with the buzz of many voices and in that din, we cannot hear the rhythm of words unless it’s pounded into our consciousness with a kick-drum.

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

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