Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928 is an American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. In the “Poor Girl”, the speaker sympathizes with a girl who her ex-lover is seeing now. Though she addresses her as ‘Poor Girl’, one discerns that is not only sympathy, but empathy as well. The speaker is contemplating on her own predicament, as she was cheated in the past by the same person.
She begins the poem addressing her ex-lover. She asserts that she recognizes the fact that he has got another love. Note that she uses the word ‘another’ as his love is not exclusive. The girl adores him unconditionally just like she used to. For both of the women, love was the very breath of their life, as they hung on his words. The word ‘hang’ connotes desperation, as in clinging on for dear life. The words came across as ‘gold’; sounding the age-old adage that “All that glitters is not gold.” The girl in question presumes that she understands the man’s soul, but actually does not. They were at a point united in their beliefs; but now separated as time and space has changed the speaker’s conviction regarding the man. The action was still the same, but differed in the time-quotient. She affirms: “Poor Girl/ Just like me.”
The poet foregrounds the guy’s moral fibre with the fact that he was “breaking another heart.” Note that the word ‘another’ is reiterated here by the poetess, as he was breaking it as it were an object, and not something capable of emotion and the intense capacity to feel. The idea comes across as a little boy callously breaking one of his ‘another’ toys, not even attributing it with material value. The speaker declares that there is nothing that she can do about it and is totally helpless. Even if she tried telling her, it was useless as she was blinded by love. She will “make me go”, implying a total dismissal of her. The statement following it :” Poor Girl/ Just like me’ implies that the speaker may have been in a similar situation: she would have been cautioned by another girl like her, but may have disregarded the warnings. Therefore, she understands the girl perfectly. Though the speaker is worldly-wise now, it is not only because she is distant in time and space, but primarily because she is enriched in experience. The speaker underlines the fact that experience is the best teacher.
She foresees that he is going to leave the other girl too. And the girl will be clueless as to what made him leave her. She would fish for a legitimate reason desperately as to why he left her. Sooner than later, the girl would be in the same position and predicament as the speaker :
Then she’ll begin
to sing this song
Just like me.
At that point, they would be integrated in experience. Thus, the poem not only points to sympathy or empathy on part of the poetess. It also sounds the self-despair of the speaker. Through the girl, it is the speaker lamenting for herself. This becomes obvious from the indelible refrain:
Just like me”
At another level, the speaker may be reliving her memory in an objective way. In that sense, the poem also functions as an impersonal memoir.
©Rukhaya MK 2010
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