Maya Angelou

A Brave and Startling Truth


We, this people, on a small and lonely planet 

Traveling through casual space 

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns 

To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn 

A brave and startling truth 



And when we come to it 

To the day of peacemaking 

When we release our fingers 

From fists of hostility 

And allow the pure air to cool our palms 



When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate 

And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean 

When battlefields and coliseum 

No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters 

Up with the bruised and bloody grass 

To lie in identical plots in foreign soil 



When the rapacious storming of the churches 

The screaming racket in the temples have ceased 

When the pennants are waving gaily 

When the banners of the world tremble 

Stoutly in the good, clean breeze 



When we come to it 

When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders 

And children dress their dolls in flags of truce 

When land mines of death have been removed 

And the aged can walk into evenings of peace 

When religious ritual is not perfumed 

By the incense of burning flesh 

And childhood dreams are not kicked awake 

By nightmares of abuse 



When we come to it 

Then we will confess that not the Pyramids 

With their stones set in mysterious perfection 

Nor the Gardens of Babylon 

Hanging as eternal beauty 

In our collective memory 

Not the Grand Canyon 

Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets 



Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe 

Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji 

Stretching to the Rising Sun 

Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor, 

Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores 

These are not the only wonders of the world 



When we come to it 

We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe 

Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger 

Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace 

We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words 

Which challenge our very existence 

Yet out of those same mouths 

Come songs of such exquisite sweetness 

That the heart falters in its labor 

And the body is quieted into awe 



We, this people, on this small and drifting planet 

Whose hands can strike with such abandon 

That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living 

Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness 

That the haughty neck is happy to bow 

And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction 

We learn that we are neither devils nor divines 



When we come to it 

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body 

Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman 

Can live freely without sanctimonious piety 

Without crippling fear 



When we come to it
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.


This poem was written and delivered in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
© Maya Angelou, from A Brave And Startling Truth
Published by Random House

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