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Date of Publication: 

Students, Faculty, Staff and Alumni

The University of the District of Columbia remembers Poet Laureate, memoirist, historian and educator:


April 4, 1928 - May 28, 2014

Upon the death of James Baldwin in 1987, Maya Angelou wrote and eulogized him with the poem, "When Great Trees Fall." Today, the UDC family mourns the passing of another great soul who stood tall and was firmly planted in her own truth and convictions. Dr. Angelou was a "hero of humanity" whose passing leaves an empty space. But her death also provides us with an opportunity to nurture and cultivate the seeds of her life, so that her legacy lives on.

“When Great Trees Fall"

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.”