Maya Angelou's "A Great and Startling Truth" seems a very appropriate choice for our class. Since August, we have been studying ways of knowing, which can also be described as a quest for truth.
The "great and startling truth" as Angelou conveys it in her poem is that everything is up to us. She notes that people are cruel, using vivid depictions of war and terror. The section that affected me the most was the section, "And children dress their dolls in flags of truce/When land mines of death have been removed/...And childhood dreams are not kicked awake/By nightmares of abuse," (26-32) because it reminds me of so many of the stories I have heard and videos I have seen of children in Latin America and Africa who live in fear because of land mines and other dangers in their homelands. I always have wanted to help these children, so this section of the poem was particularly meaningful to me.
Angelou, after depicting humanity as cruel, suggests that although humans are acting cruel right now, when we realize the truth that it is up to us to change the world, we will do so. "When we come to it," is a repeated throughout the poem until the end, where she says, "We must confess that we are the possible/We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world/That is when, and only when/We come to it" (75-78). When she speaks of "it," she speaks of the realization and responsibility to make the world better.
This poem seems very inspirational and should not be ignored, but it is not exactly in agreement with what we learned in class. We learned about truth--various types of truth, how to determine truth, and sources of knowing. We learned how truth can be subjective, relative, objective, or absolute. Although many people may agree with Angelou's truth, it is still very subjective because it is her opinion and her truth. Others may disagree with her, but it does not matter to her because it is based on her individual self. Her truth is not absolute. The problem with Angelou's poem is that it talks a lot about what people can do, but it never mentions the absolute truth behind her subjective truth--God. The absolute truth is that God created humanity, and God is in control of humanity. Although he does give us the responsibility to live on earth, he also gives us the power to help others and the strength to fight the evil in our world through faith.
The poem also hints at the idea of a heaven, but it does not go into great detail. Angelou may have meant that the earth will be like heaven when it is peaceful. This is somewhat similar, but extremely different to what we learned from Simply Christian. In this book, N.T. Wright introduced the idea of heaven coming down upon the earth. In his theory, earth and heaven become fused together to create a new kingdom. Angelou calls earth a "small and drifting planet" numerous times, but as we learned that will certainly not be the case when heaven and earth combine to create the new kingdom of God.