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


  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)