When I Lay My Burden Down By Maya Angelou

When Maya Angelou wrote When I Lay My Burden Down, she created a poem that captures the power of setting life’s troubles aside. With its strong imagery and meaningful lyrics, the poem resonates with readers deeply. The poem tackles the universal notions of feeling overwhelmed as well as the ultimate liberation of walking away from concern. By considering the poem’s elements and structure, readers can develop an appreciation of the poem in its entirety.

At its core, When I Lay My Burden Down expresses the idea of catharsis, as Angelou relies on metaphor to capture the emotion of pouring out one’s worries and reacting with joy. Right from the opening line — “When I lay my burden down” — the feeling of a short-term escape is laid out. This sense of taking a pause from the cares of life is then further underscored by the recurring use of the phrase “yoke is broke” throughout the poem.

The poem then moves into the idea of finding a release from the troubles of life, as the narrator talks of everything from hills that are calling out to her to a longing of the soul that can ultimately be conquered. In essence, Angelou presents a vision where one’s burdens can be put aside momentarily, and her experience allows her to push through her issues and have joy.

The structure of the poem is also essential. Running in a new quatrain structure, the six stanzas create the impression of the poet’s burden gradually getting lighter, until the poem reaches its resolution. The last two lines of the poem are quite important, as Angelou repeats the opening phrase, but from a place of newfound strength. The effect of repeating the line at the start and the finish drove the point home and suggests how one can begin to heal from life’s problems.

This repeated phrase goes beyond a mere stylistic choice, and instead offers readers an uplifting message of victory in the face of life’s struggles. The reflection on the idea of overcoming one’s burdens makes this poem such an important addition to Angelou’s larger body of work.


At its heart, When I Lay My Burden Down is a poem of liberation, both spiritually and emotionally, in the face of life’s trials. The speaker in the poem is determined to find hope in even the darkest of situations, which further provides the poem with relevance to readers. In seeking to overcome and ultimately rise above the adversity life throws our way, the poem radiates with optimism that if we all just follow our heart, we can make it to better places.

The poem is also a reminder to readers of the importance of accepting help from others, lest one become overwhelmed. As the narrator in the poem talks about a friend lifting the yoke, there is the sense that we are not alone and that by leaning on those around us, even our most difficult challenges can become easier to confront. Furthermore, the poem is a celebration of the joy of nature, as the narrator also talks about finding relief in the hills.

The poem has many religious overtones throughout, as is demonstrated by its use of language when talking of redemption and deliverance. There is an obvious comparison to the notion of rebirth and renewal, as the narrator talks of giving up one’s burden and being freed to explore the wonders of the world.


The language of the poem is descriptive and mesmerizing. While most of the poem relies on simple, direct syntax, the imagery of hills, fields, and mountains portrays a vivid landscape. Angelou also uses alliteration to enhance her lyrical rhythms, most apparent in the phrase “purling purling.” This phrase is highly repeatable and, alongside the other usage of assonance and repetition, amplifies the freeing experience that the speaker experiences.

By having the narrator acknowledge their yoke is broken, the repetition of the phrase conveys a sense of optimism and strength, as the phrase is a powerful rallying cry of liberation. The narrator’s sense of freedom is also expressed through the use of metaphor and personification, as seen in the lines “these mountains wrestled till my yoke was broke,” and “the birds and the hills began to sing.”


At its core, When I Lay My Burden Down is a testament to Maya Angelou’s ability to connect her deep-rooted struggles with reader’s emotions. By combining a universal issue with poetic expression, Angelou has created a meaningful poem that can be used as a rallying point for those dealing with life’s burdens.

The poem also serves as a reminder that joy and freedom can still be found, no matter our life circumstance. The uplifting message– that we can break free from our burden and embrace the good life– is one that many readers can relate to and learn from.

The powerful use of language helps heighten the meaning of the poem. Angelou articulately captures the idea of liberation by relying on eloquent phrase choice and rhythm. As readers come to understand the structure and the imagery of the poem, they come to appreciate its beauty and depth of meaning.


Maya Angelou’s When I Lay My Burden Down is an emotionally stirring poem that address the very real struggle of finding peace and joy in a sea of troubles. By combining uplifting language, meaningful imagery, and poetic expression, the poem succeeds in conveying a sense of empowerment and liberation. It is a worthy reminder of the power of letting go of one’s worries and understanding that there is still joy to be found in life.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

Leave a Comment