Maya Angelou passed away yesterday and sadness fell over my soul. I wanted to write something or offer a poem to honor her but all my drafts seemed unworthy. She was such a singular human being with an amazing voice and a full life lived.

A friend of mine shared this from author James Baldwin’s Facebook page and it blew me away.


Photo: Maya Angelou and James Baldwin in the 1960s (From James Baldwin Facebook Page)

Maya wrote the poem “When Great Trees Fall” when James Baldwin died, and read the poem at his funeral.


Photo: Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison at James Baldwin’s funeral, December 1987

“When Great Trees Fall” by Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

She existed and we can be and be better for she existed.


Thank you to Random House for maintaining a Facebook Page for the wonderful James Baldwin.

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