Caged Bird- Maya Angelou • This poem is a contrast between a caged bird and a free bird and their different characteristics, emphasizing on the Caged Bird. • The poem begins by speaking of the free bird and how it has the freedom to go where ever, when ever, and can claim the sky because there are no other birds to contest with. the stanza shows us that the free bird is lazy and would rather float on the wind instead of make its own path. • The second stanza introduces the limitations set upon the caged bird, and how this affects the bird ,as the bird is still proud and cries out for freedom. • The third stanza emphasizes the caged bird and its plight. It tells of how the caged bird sings for freedom, as if it still has hope for things it does not know of. The caged bird can “ be heard on the distant hill”.The bird is shown to rebel against all that holds it back in an attempt to be freed.
The fourth stanza is about the free bird again , and how the bird although free” thinks of another breeze” showing that although the bird is free , the bird is not content and is greedy to have even more freedom, but again it is shown to be lazy in that is unsatisfied with the stream of wind that it is on but not enough to do something about it. • The stanza then describes how easy things seem to come to the free bird, as there are worms waiting for it at dawn on the lawn. • The fifth stanza depicts the bird in its cage, the cage that has now become the grave of the birds dreams, and once again the caged bird sings of freedom, • The final stanza is a repetition of stanza three which serves as an emphasis on the caged bird. the birds song is to be feared and respected..
More analysis The contrast between birds is highlighted not only by physical freedoms, but mental ones. The free bird can vividly imagine ‘fat worms’ and ‘sighing trees’, however the caged bird dreams not from experience, but longing. The words ‘fat’ and ‘sighing’ sum up the free bird; he has all of his material desires tended to, but internally still craves more. The caged bird is imprisoned, but free of such greed. He can find solace in the only thing he has; song. Physically the bird is caged ,but internally his soul is not. This is the irony of the poem, and makes it relevant to everyday life. • The poem is ultimately positive, because although the caged bird has no freedom, his hope cannot be dimmed by his ‘bars of rage’ and ‘clipped wings’. His song is so loud that it is ‘heard on a distant hill’, perhaps forcing the free bird to take notice. • This could be compared to Slavery in the USA, the caged bird being a slave, and the free bird a white man. Importantly, African-American slaves often used to sing while working. This had the effect of raising their spirits and maintaining unity, producing a sense of hope.
Word Use • The words that are used alternate between very harsh, strong words such as “stalks “ and “fearful trill” when in a stanza concerning the Caged bird, to more flowing words such as “floats” and “sighing trees” when concerned with the Free bird. Sound Devices : • Sibilance : S1- “ leaps, floats,dips,dares”, these are all words describing the free bird and these words are all verbs of free actions. • S5 –“shadow shouts on a nightmare scream”. Rhyme • S1 and 6 – “trill,still, hill” The rhyming in these stanzas create a rhythm, a beat for the poem, and the rhythm gives a more ominous air to the stanza.
The first two stanzas are 7 lines each. This represents how the writer may be trying to evenly contrast between the two birds. This effect is again created in stanzas 4 and 5, they have slightly longer lines but both are 4 lines each. The repetition in the lengths of the stanzas and the the length of the lines create a tempo for the poem , and the different tempos that are created work together with the words used to create stress on different sections of the poem. • S4- “ breeze” and “trees”. And “lawn “ and “own” this sibilance gives the stanza a more flowing effect. Structure: • The stressed syllables tend to fall at the end of the line. This gives the poem a regular rhythm and beat, like that of a slow beating tribal drum. The repetition of Stanza 3 has the effect of making it like a chorus to a song. Also, the longer lines of Stanzas 4 and 5 slow down the tempo to draw more attention to what is happening. Again the poem seems like a song in itself with its own beat and even a chorus.
About Maya Angelou Maya Angelou once said, “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.” • In a way, this really sums up the poem, ‘Caged Bird’, and her autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. Angelou was born in 1928 and lived with either her mother or grandmother for most of her early years. At aged eight she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend, who was then killed by her uncles. She became mute for six years after this. • Angelou, after leaving home, worked in many jobs, including as a streetcar conductor, a professional dancer, a madame . As a single, black mother in the 1950s and 1960s, she worked hard, gaining acclaim with the publication of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. She has since published many other works, and in 1993 read a poem at President Clinton’s inauguration.
Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) Sympathy I KNOW what the caged bird feels, alas! When the sun is bright on the upland slopes; When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass, And the river flows like a stream of glass; When the first bird sings and the first bud opes, And the faint perfume from its chalice steals — I know what the caged bird feels! I know why the caged bird beats his wing Till its blood is red on the cruel bars; For he must fly back to his perch and cling When he fain would be on the bough a-swing; And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars And they pulse again with a keener sting — I know why he beats his wing! I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,— When he beats his bars and he would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings — I know why the caged bird sings! • ‘Caged Bird’ was published in the volume ‘Shaker, why don’t you sing?’ in 1983. It draws inspiration heavily from a poem by Paul Dunbar Lawrence (1872-1906) called ‘Sympathy’, almost to the point of plagiarism. It appears as simple, but is surprisingly effective.