‘Continue’ by Maya Angelou, a Poignant and Beautiful Poem

Young black woman with eyes closed.

'Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.' (Image: Leighann Blackwood via Unsplash)

Maya Angelou, the prolific American writer, civil rights activist, and poet wrote a flawless and touching poem titled Continue, that struck a chord with me today. The poem’s enduring nature is one that strengthens the spirit and says to me exactly what the title suggests — “continue.”

Maya Angelou’s last tweet inspires connection

Maya Angelou passed away in May 2014 at 86 years of age, but her wisdom and work certainly live on. In her last tweet on May 23, Maya Angelou said: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

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A woman of many roles

Throughout her life, Maya Angelou excelled in so many different roles. She penned over 30 books that won numerous awards. She also directed, wrote, and acted in movies, theater, and television. She was a songwriter, singer, educator, much-loved lecturer, rights activist, and mother, as well as a Grammy award winner for three spoken-word albums.

Legendary poet, educator, writer, singer, and rights activist Maya Angelou.
Legendary poet, educator, writer, singer, and rights activist Maya Angelou. (Image: kyle tsui via Wikimedia Commons)

Self-love and courage

Courage is a theme found throughout Maya Angelou’s work. She had an optimistic view of life regardless of the hardships that had surrounded her and she wrote a lot about the importance of self-love.

In an interview with On Being, Maya Angelou recalls the time she met W.E.B. DuBois in Ghana and what everyone can learn about courage from his example:

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can’t be consistently fair or kind or generous or forgiving any of those without courage.”

Acknowledging the importance of humility

Having garnered numerous prestigious literary and humanitarian awards,  as well as more than 70 honorary degrees, mary Angelou still saw herself as constantly learning.

“Humility is great, because humility says, ‘There was someone before me. I’m following in somebody’s footsteps.'”

Forgiveness and empowering yourself

There are many notable Maya Angelou quotes. This one on forgiveness is particularly empowering and brings with it hope.

“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate — thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.”

I know why the caged bird sings

If you want to read up more on the life of Maya Angelou, look into I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), which was on The New York Times paperback bestseller list for two years. It recalls the story of Maya Angelou’s early life as she transforms herself from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-empowered, noble young adult capable of responding to prejudice.

Maya Angelou: ‘Continue’

Into a world which needed you
My wish for you
Is that you continue


To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness


To allow humor to lighten the burden
of your tender heart


In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter


To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined


To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you


To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely


To put the mantel of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless


To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise


To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected


To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good


To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit


To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing


To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name


And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue

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