On Wednesday morning Maya Angelou died in her North Carolina home at the age of 86. Throughout her life, the renowned poet, author, and activist touched the hearts of millions.
President Barack Obama released a statement on the morning of her death, saying in part:
Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time—a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman … And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, “flung up to heaven”—and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.
Below is an expert from Celebrations: Rituals of Peace and Prayer, a book of Angelou’s poems that was released in 2006. Several poems in Celebrations have become nearly as iconic as Angelou herself, including “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
It’s a window into Angelou’s utopian side, a reminder that she dreamed of a more peaceful and loving future on this earth—and believed that things like “tenderness,” “wonder,” and deep attentiveness to ourselves were all part of the way to get there.
From “A Brave and Startling Truth”:
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.