Poetry Is Music Written for the Human Voice

Maya Angelou? Bertha Flowers? Bill Moyers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Rhyme and rhythm often produce a lovely euphony in poems. This notion has been expressed as follows:

Poetry is music written for the human voice.

These words have been attributed to Renaissance woman Maya Angelou, but some people assert that she disclaimed credit. Would you please help me to find a precise citation?

Quote Investigator: Traumatic experiences during Maya Angelou’s childhood caused her to stop speaking when she was young. Family friend Bertha Flowers encouraged Angelou to read novels and poetry aloud to achieve a greater understanding. This eventually led Angelou to begin talking again.

In 1982 U.S. public T.V. broadcast a 17-part series called “Creativity With Bill Moyers”. A reviewer in the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois described the premiere episode during which journalist Moyers spoke to Angelou who presented an insight from her mentor Bertha Flowers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Poetry is music written for the human voice—she must have told me that 50 times,” Angelou says.

Mrs. Flowers also told her to go home and read poetry, and she did, under her grandmother’s bed at first, and eventually she started speaking again. Now she speaks and reads and performs her poetry all over the world, but she’ll never forget Mrs. Flowers.

Thus, Maya Angelou popularized the expression under examination, but she attributed it to her respected guide Bertha Flowers.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Poetry Is Music Written for the Human Voice

Notes:

  1. 1982 January 8, Chicago Tribune, Moyers’ ‘Creativity’ is a rare gift by Marilynn Preston on TV, Section 3, Quote Page 12, Column 4, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

There Is Nothing Quite So Tragic as a Young Cynic, Because It Means the Person Has Gone From Knowing Nothing To Believing Nothing

Maya Angelou? Bill Moyers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent memoirist and poet Maya Angelou suffered in her early life, but she did not become bitter. She believed that young cynics were tragic figures. Would you please help me to find her comment on this topic?

Quote Investigator: This article mentions rape, murder, and trauma-induced muteness.

In 1988 journalist Bill Moyers produced a documentary about “Facing Evil”. Maya Angelou discussed events from her childhood. She experienced sexual abuse and responded by revealing the identity of her abuser who was jailed and later killed. These harrowing incidents caused her to become mute for almost five years.

While presenting her account within the documentary, Angelou employed the term “sordida” which means dirty, soiled, sordid. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

So out of this evil, which was a dire kind of evil, because rape on the body of a young person more often than not introduces cynicism, and there is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing. In my case I was saved in that muteness, you see, in the sordida, I was saved. And I was able to draw from human thought, human disappointments and triumphs, enough to triumph myself.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is Nothing Quite So Tragic as a Young Cynic, Because It Means the Person Has Gone From Knowing Nothing To Believing Nothing

Notes:

  1. Website: TV Archive at Internet Archive, Television show: Moyers Company on PBS, Interview participant: Maya Angelou, Date on website: September 5, 2014 (Rebroadcast of 1988 documentary), Upload date: September 6, 2014, Website description: Television programs stored at Internet Archive. (Accessed archive.org on January 7, 2021) link