Old Folks Laugh by Maya Angelou: Glossary and Interpretation

Topics: Death, Old age, Stereotype Pages: 4 (714 words) Published: October 8, 2013
Old folks laugh
by Maya Angelou
They have spent their
content of simpering,
holding their lips this
and that way, winding
the lines between
their brows. Old folks
allow their bellies to jiggle like slow
tambourines.
The hollers
rise up and spill
over any way they want.
When old folks laugh, they free the world.
They turn slowly, slyly knowing
the best and worst
of remembering.
Saliva glistens in
the corners of their mouths,
their heads wobble
on brittle necks, but
their laps
are filled with memories.
When old folks laugh, they consider the
promise
of dear painless death, and generously
forgive life for happening
to them.

Glossary:
Simpering – smiling falsely.
Holler – yell, shout.
Stereotype – an unfair generalisation of the characteristics of a particular group of people or things.
Spontaneous – impulsive, of ones own free will and without external influence. Enjambment – the unbroken continuation of a sentence from the end of one line to the beginning of another.
Conform – adapt behaviour to suite popular culture or widely accepted ideas or standards. Summary:
The poem portrays old people as free from falseness and vanity. It portrays them as having the ability to be joyful in the midst of a life filled with hardships. They know that life may injure them along the way but they have accepted this and so can experience peace and joy. The poem challenges many of the stereotypical ideas associated with old people. Structure:

Free verse is a neglect for normal poetic structures. This emphasises that old folks have broken free from convention. They are released from the limits of social expectation and are spontaneous. The enjambment serves the same purpose.

Interpretation:
Key:
Green – forced actions.
Yellow – spontaneous actions.
Line:
1. Old people have exhausted...
2. their ability and their willingness to fake their emotions (‘content’ has two meanings),...
3. deliberately smile...
4. or look sad and deliberately...
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