Awaking In New York, Maya Angelou: Summary & Analysis

"Awaking In New York" by Maya Angelou is a vivid and contemplative poem that captures the essence of the bustling city in the early morning hours. Through striking imagery and evocative language, the poem explores the contrast between the city's energy and the speaker's personal sense of isolation.

Awaking In New York by Maya Angelou

Curtains forcing their will
against the wind,
children sleep,
exchanging dreams with
seraphim. The city
drags itself awake on
subway straps; and
I, an alarm, awake as a
rumor of war,
lie stretching into dawn,
unasked and unheeded.

Critical Analysis

"Awaking In New York" paints a vivid portrait of the city's early morning atmosphere while also delving into the speaker's personal thoughts and feelings. The opening lines set the stage with the image of "Curtains forcing their will against the wind," symbolizing both the city's determination and the speaker's sense of confinement. The act of "children sleep, exchanging dreams with seraphim" contrasts with the urban awakening, highlighting the innocence and purity that exists even amidst the chaos.

The city's awakening is described as dragging itself "awake on subway straps," emphasizing the mechanical and relentless nature of urban life. The speaker likens themselves to an "alarm" and a "rumor of war," suggesting an unsettling awareness and tension. The image of lying "stretching into dawn" evokes a feeling of isolation and detachment.

Themes of the Poem

  • City Life: The poem explores the energy, isolation, and complexity of urban existence.
  • Contrast: The poem contrasts the bustling city with the speaker's internal experiences and emotions.
  • Isolation: The sense of being "unasked and unheeded" suggests the speaker's feelings of being overlooked or marginalized.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Imagery: The poem employs vivid imagery to create a sensory-rich portrayal of the city's awakening and the speaker's emotions.
  • Contrast: The juxtaposition of city imagery with the speaker's introspective moments enhances the poem's complexity.
  • Metaphor: The metaphor of the speaker as an "alarm" and a "rumor of war" adds depth to their heightened awareness and the tensions they feel.


  • Disconnection: The poem conveys a sense of disconnection and isolation experienced by the speaker within the bustling city.
  • Heightened Awareness: The references to being an "alarm" and a "rumor of war" reflect the speaker's heightened sensitivity to their surroundings.


  • Symbolism: The use of "curtains forcing their will," "seraphim," and "subway straps" adds symbolic depth to the poem's portrayal of the city's awakening.
  • Metaphor: The metaphor of the city dragging itself awake contributes to the mechanical and relentless imagery.

Sound Devices

  • Alliteration: The repetition of sounds in phrases like "Curtains forcing" and "children sleep" adds a rhythmic quality to the poem.
  • Imagery: The poem's vivid imagery enhances its auditory and visual impact, immersing the reader in the scene.
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