I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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“I know why the caged bird sings” is Maya Angelou’s heart-wrenching poem that reflects on the mindless oppression that the Blacks were subjected back in the olden days. Her portrayal of the injustice using a “free bird” and a “caged bird” leaves us with a bitter taste that reminds us of the long abolished slavery.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

BY MAYA ANGELOU

A free bird leaps on the back
Of the wind and floats downstream
Till the current ends and dips his wing
In the orange suns rays
And dares to claim the sky.

But a BIRD that stalks down his narrow cage
Can seldom see through his bars of rage
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill for
The caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
And the trade winds soft through
The sighing trees
And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright
Lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged BIRD stands on the grave of dreams
His shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
His wings are clipped and his feet are tied
So he opens his throat to sing.

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The caged bird sings with
A fearful trill of things unknown
But longed for still and his
Tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom.

Analysis of “I know why the caged bird sings”

Published in 1983, “I know why the caged bird sings” is a poem written by Maya Angelou. Through this poem, she holds for us to see the sufferings of the African-Americans. The “free bird” reigns the skies and then swoops down to wallow in the pool of sunlight – it owns the great blue. However, the caged bird is trapped by the “bars of rage” – it has no other way to express itself but to sing “with a fearful trill”. It “sings of freedom” which can be heard “on the distant hill”. The “free bird” glides through “another breeze” while “fat worms” wait for him. However, wings clipped and feet tied, the “caged bird” keeps singing of freedom.

One of the themes of “I know why the caged bird sings” is the plain racial discrimination between the Whites and the Blacks. Angelou has used the symbols of the “free bird” to represent the dominating Whites and a “caged bird” for the oppressed Black races. Throughout the six stanzas, the speaker uses a reflective tone and alternates between the secured, unshackled life of the “free bird” and the enslaved, crushed life of the “caged bird”.

The “free bird”, to enjoy the sun, “floats downstream” – it is as if everything is paved to ease up the life of the free; the worms that it fetches, are not just any worm, they are “fat” worms – the life of the privileged is further facilitated. However, the “caged bird” is not only enslaved in “his narrow cage” but his “wings are clipped” and “feet are tied”. It alludes to the fact that, how the colored races are treated in comparison to the whites. They are stripped of their fundamental rights to act their will or go any places they want to. When “the caged bird sings with a fearful trill”, it is actually the only way left for him to validate his existence.

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