Close Reading On, “Come. And be my Baby,” by Maya Angelou.

July 19, 2010

Come.  And be my Baby
Maya Angelou

The highway is full of big cars going nowhere fast
And folks is smoking anything that’ll burn
Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass
And you sit wondering
where you’re going to turn.
I got it.
Come.  And be my baby.

Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow
But others say we’ve got a week or two
The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror
And you sit wondering
what you’re gonna do.
I got it.
Come.  And be my baby.

Close Reading On, “Come.  And be my Baby,”  by Maya Angelou.

At first glance this is a pretty simple poem. Two stanzas, each with a simple abab rhyme scheme, and each with a closing statement that can be found in thousands of songs. The style is written in the vernacular and contains clichés that are easily understood by a common people. I don’t know much about Maya Angelou except that she is African American and that she likes children or monsters or maybe both (she was often on Sesame Street when my boys were young enough to watch it). Although not nearly as strong as other works by Black Poets I’ve read, this poem has a bit of an ebonic feel to it. It is certainly in familiar style with the Blues. Take the repetition of the last two lines in each stanza coinciding with the dark and lonely content of the work and we have got the Blues. I can hear the old man with his guitar wailing; “Oh, life is hard, life is bad, so come on and be my baby. Oh, the world is hard, the world is bad, so come on and be my baby…” However, all this is only surface appeal. A closer look reveals much more action taking place in all these common clichés.

“Come.  And be my Baby.” Though the phrase is common enough, the punctuation is unusual and warns us we are being invited in a work that is more then just a simple love poem. In the first line we are presented with a highway “full of big cars that are going nowhere fast.” Life is full of action, full of commotion, and full of big cars. The poem starts off with people racing for bigger and better things, chasing after greed, but where are they going? Nowhere fast. The idea of living simply to gain leads to a life of futility and unfulfillment. So, we end up with “folks … smoking anything that’ll burn.” The image of people getting high. Unfulfilled people reach out to find happiness and comfort artificially and they end up burning their lives away, destroying themselves. And yet, “Some people wrap their lives around a cocktail glass.” When a person is wrapped up in something the impression is that they are consumed by it. What is literally wrapped around the cocktail glass is the hand. The alcoholic drink represents addiction. This life is so futile that people are consumed by their addictions and they grasp them and cling to them to try again to fill their need for comfort. “And you sit wondering/ where you’re going to turn.” The last line of this thought is the first time the reader is addressed. We are spoken to as if we are confused and lost, not knowing what we can rely on and as if we are looking for answers. “I got it.” And the poet offers us a solution to our troubles. She tells us to “Come.” Then she invites us to be her baby. What we have now is the image of two people looking for meaning and not finding fulfillment in greed, artificial happiness, or addiction. They therefore can only cling to each other and find comfort in one another.

But then the second stanza opens up in the midst of the apocalypse and full of doom: “Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow.” We can cling to each other all we want, but what if the world ends? Where does that leave us? “But others say we’ve got a week or two.” Maybe there is a little time, maybe we have a little hope, but still “The paper is full of every kind of blooming horror.” If these lines don’t represent the end of all things, they at least show us the uncertainty of life and the chaos that ensues in the world. However, this time when we, the readers, are addressed, we are not simply looking for a place to turn to, we are wondering what we’re “gonna do.” This time we are given the power to take an action, to do something about all this futility and chaos. “I got it.” And the poet offers us the very same solution; “Come.  And be my baby.” But this time these words have more depth and power, perhaps caused by our invitation to do something. This time there is a greater sense of love, the idea that when we are able to love one another, to cling to each other and support our fellow man, we can have hope against the chaos of the world and give meaning to life. And if there is a unifying force of love that can bind us together, can we not take that idea one step further in this poem?

“I got it.” I’ve got a solution:  “Come.”  The period after “come” makes the statement a command. The double space between this statement and the next phrase, “And be my baby,” creates a pause that puts more emphasis on both statements. We are forced to reflect on them, there is the sense that there is more going on in this poem than just a call for lonely people to take comfort in each other. In fact, I think there is an element of the Divine here. Throughout the Bible, in the Old Testament, God constantly appeals to his people to “Come.” Come and know me and my goodness, come and buy silver and gold from me (metaphors for spiritual wealth), come to me and find forgiveness. In the New Testament, Jesus consistently makes the same appeal, “Come to me you who are weary, thirsty, etc.” and he opens up the call to all mankind. “Come.  And be my baby.” The people of God in the Bible are also repeatedly spoken of metaphorically as his bride, even with language that is often passionate and sometimes explicit. Perhaps, underneath the seeming simplicity of the Blues in this poem is a call from the Divine. Perhaps the poet herself becomes a prophetess speaking hope, rather than doom. Perhaps through Maya Angelou God himself is declaring:

“Without me, life is meaningless, without me, the world is chaos, but ‘I got it.’ I’ve got a solution: ‘Come.  And be my baby.’ Come away from your futile greed, your artificial high and addiction; come away from the pain, the fear, and the horror. ‘Come.  And be my baby.’”

Peter L Richardson


5 Responses to “Close Reading On, “Come. And be my Baby,” by Maya Angelou.”

  1. wow u can actually write ur not just a teacher.

  2. Patti Whaley Says:

    Thanks. A really beautiful reading of this delightful little poem.

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