Phenomenal Woman

Words copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou
Music and arrangement Creative Commons License 2009 by Jim Bearden

When I first saw this poem, in a book of Maya Angelou’s poetry, I was struck by how it seemed to jump off the page, with its own bright melody. I later discovered that I wasn’t the only one who had thought of setting this poem to music, and that there were several recorded versions. All of them that I have heard so far, though, went for a slow, majestic melody, which wasn’t anything like the upbeat one I had heard when I read it. So this is my idea of what I think it should sound like, and you can see what you think of it, compared to any others you’ve heard. Of course, there’s still the obvious problem that I’m the wrong gender to sing this in the first person, so I’ll just hope that someone of the right gender comes along to do this justice.

Verse 1:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies:
I’m not cute, or built to suit a fashion model’s size.
But when I start to tell them, they think I’m telling lies.
I say:
It’s in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips,
The stride of my steps, the curl of my lips.

I’m a woman —
Phenomenal woman —
That’s me!

Verse 2:
I walk into a room, just as cool as you please;
And to a man, the fellows stand, or fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me — a hive of honey bees.
I say:
It’s the fire in my eyes, and the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist, and the joy in my feet.


Verse 3:
Men themselves have wondered what they see in me —
They try so much, but they can’t touch my inner mystery.
When I try to show them, they say they still can’t see.
I say:
It’s in the arch of my back, the sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts, the grace of my style.


Verse 4:
Now you understand just why my head’s not bowed;
I don’t shout, or jump about, or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing, it ought to make you proud.
I say:
It’s in the click of my heels, the bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand, the need for my care.


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