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Maya Angelou's "Touched by an Angel"

Updated on October 8, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Maya Angelou



Angelou's "Touched by an Angel" lacks the poetic qualities that transform a philosophical statement into a poem.

Maya Angelou's "Touched by an Angel" features three versagraphs; the first consists of six lines rendering it a sestet, while the second is a septet and the final an octave. The philosophical piece grows by a line as it proceeds through its three divisions.

The title remains problematic. Obviously, love is the angel. But the poem seems to focus more on human love than Divine Love. That divide need not necessarily set up a dichotomy, but the several flaws that hamper the poem's execution reinforce the doubt that there is enough unity in the poem to elide human and Divine love.

First Sestet Versagraph: "We, unaccustomed to courage"

The speaker strikes a philosophical pose as she attempts to dramatize the importance of love in a human life. Until the human being experiences love, which has the ability to liberate us into life, s/he remains without courage and behaves as exiles from delight.

The uninitiated in love curl up in the fetal position and hide themselves in shells of loneliness. Then after love descends from its "high holy temple" and makes itself visible to our sight, the human being's heart and mind are liberated from the shell and truly begin to live—a rather mundane thought, expressed rather blandly.

Second Septet Versagraph: "Love arrives"

As love enters the life of the individual, it brings with it "ecstasies / old memories of pleasure / ancient histories of pain." Human love is not perfect; therefore, it will not always afford the lover perfect bliss.

The lovers will have to accept the positives with the negatives. However, if each human being can be bold, love will deliver him/her from the "chains of fear." Love will lighten the burden placed on the soul by that binding fear.

Third Octave Versagraph: "We are weaned from our timidity"

The speaker then declares in her philosophical demeanor that "we are weaned from our timidity / In the flush of love's light." The sudden burst of light from love slowly allows the individual to behave less furtively than before his experiencing a loving relationship.

The juxtaposition of speed and slowness is jarring. The light of love encourages bravery, but also unveils a paradox: "suddenly we see / that love / costs all we are / and will ever be. / Yet it is only love / which sets us free." The human must pay for love with his/her entire being; yet without love s/he will remain forever bound by those chains of fear.

Final Comment

This poem, unlike many of Angelou's fine pieces, does not quite work well. The version circulating on the Web looks like draft instead of a final version. It needs some editing to correct punctuation and capitalization flaws.

For example, the final versagraph places capital letters on lines that causes them to stand outside the prevailing cap system for the rest of the poem:

We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love's light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.

The poem had been capping only letters that begin a sentence, but in the above lines, it caps two letters "I" and "And," which begin a line but not a sentence.

The opening lines—"We, unaccustomed to courage / exiles from delight / live coiled in shells of loneliness"—appear to be missing a second comma which should be placed after "loneliness." Also adding to the second line, "exiles from delight," an "and" at its opening would iron out the wrinkles of awkwardness that plagues that line.

In addition to the technical problems, the poem lacks the specificity that turns mere philosophical declarations into poems. The first versagraph declares that love "liberates us into life," which is a lovely thought but remains vague without further elucidation.

The second versagraph claims that love removes fear from our souls but then that revelation comes after claiming, "Yet if we are bold." If we are already bold, it is likely that that fear had already been stricken from our souls.

The third versagraph asserts the love "sets us free." Yet it has set up a paradox that cannot be resolved from the paucity of elucidation offered. How is that love can set us free if it "costs all we are / and will ever be"?

The claims remain prose assertions broken into lines to look like poetry. The final attempted paradox lacks a resolution and thus simply remains a contradictory statement.

Reading of Angelou's "Touched by an Angel"

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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