I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Poem by Maya Angelou

“I know why the Caged Bird sing” poem is a reflection of the injustice, discrimination, and inequality that African Americans faced during the civil rights era. The poet brings a contrast of two birds, one free and the other caged to remind the readers of slavery during the olden days.

The Poem: 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 sun 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.

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.

A Summary of “I know why the Caged Bird Sings” Poem

 Stanza 1

The poem starts with a spirit of freedom and happiness. The opening lines are a description of the liberty of a free bird that can move anywhere without restrictions. The free bird can move freely like the wind. The bird flies in the direction of the wind current. The sky is its home, and it can and has immersed its wings in the rays of the sun. The free bird is courageous enough to claim ownership of the sky.

Stanza 2

The second stanza is a contrast of the first stanza. The freedom of the caged bird has been curtailed. The Poet uses the term “stalk” as an illustration of how the caged bird looks through the cage hence intensifying fear resulting from a restricted life. The bird can almost not clearly see through the bars of the cage. Space is limited; the wings are clipped while the feet are tied.

Symbolism has tremendously been used in this stanza. Wings and feet symbolize freedom of flight and freedom of movement.

The bird has been denied his natural freedoms and rights. The caged bird is frustrated and angered at the situation, and he desires to escape, but he can’t.

The only option that the bird has is to open his throat and sing. Singing is the only source of refreshment and joy in his life.

Stanza 3

Even though the caged bird attempts to sing, he is full of fear hence his voice quavers. He longs for freedom, something he has never had before.

Even though he does not know what freedom feels like, there is a part in him that wants to break free from shackled existence.

His voice is so intense that it is heard from a distance.

The sad situation of the caged bird is felt from his desire for freedom.

Stanza 4

The stanza highlights the unrestricted life of a liberated bird. The liberated bird has the freedom to fly through the wind, go to the branches, and enjoy.

The unrestricted bird symbolizes liberty and freedom. The free bird only thinks about the fat worms that he will consume. It names the sky its own and experiences all the freedom to go anywhere and rule the sky.

The fourth stanza brings out the thought of how, when someone is free, they own the entire world.

Stanza 5

The cage is a grief of the bird’s dreams. He is made to live in a dark and confined space. He is imprisoned.

His situation is worse than a nightmare.

The cries for freedom by the bid take after the screams of a person experiencing a nightmare.

There is a sense of helplessness, sadness, and pity in the bird’s song. The stanza has a repetition of the lines:

“His wings are clipped, and his feet are tied

so he opens the throat to sing.”

the repetition serves as an emphasis to show the severity of the bird’s captive life.

Stanza 6

The poem closes with a refrain in which the bird’s dreams of his freedom from his monotonous existence.

The stanza is a repetition of the third stanza, which also serves as an emphasis on the sorrowful condition of the restrained bird.

However, the stanza is also an emphasis on the bird’s dedication to freedom and hope.

The bird has not lost hope and continues to dream of the day of liberation.

Themes in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Freedom and Confinement

Freedom and confinement is the most visible theme. We get the image of a free bird that likes to live the life of liberty and joy.

Confinement is evident with the restricted life of the caged bird having clipped wings and tied feet. This is also an aspect of enslavement.

The poem begins with a content bird that can move wherever and fly anywhere it wants. Its natural habitat is the sky and can dip its wings into the rays of the sun that cover the sky.

The free bird lives in the sky with no one to control it and with no boundaries.

On the other hand, the caged or restrained bird has an imprisoned life in a “narrow cage.” It can barely even get a glimpse of the sky. It cannot move freely and lives a miserable and helpless life.

The caged bird only longs for freedom.

The free bird enjoys the breeze in the leafy branches, but the caged bird is just a grave of dreams where there is neither happiness nor freedom.

The caged bird can do nothing about its situation but hope for a better tomorrow.

The conditions of the caged and free birds are a representation of the social disparity between African-Americans and whites during the civil rights era.

The caged or restricted life of the caged bird is a symbol of injustice, discrimination, and the inequality that African-Americans faced during the civil rights period.

Racism

The poem indirectly brings to our attention to racial discrimination that was prevalent in the United States during the civil rights period. Whites and African-Americans lived separately.

The caged bird is a symbol of African-Americans and the inhuman treatment they got just because of the color of their skin.

Slavery and restriction of the African-Americans are represented by the way the caged bird’s wings are clipped and his feet tied.

Therefore, the caged bird represents the entire African-American community that was subjected to cultural, religious, social discrimination, and denied freedom.

Voice Against Injustice/Voice Against Discrimination,

 the caged bird is subjected to constant physical, emotional, and mental torture. Its happiness and freedom have forcefully been taken away.

Despite all the bad treatment, the caged bird is still positive and hopeful about the future.

The caged bird still sings for freedom despite being miserable.

The caged bird is a reference to all the African-Americans who wrote songs, sang, and danced in the hope of getting equality and freedom.

The caged bird still raised his voice against inequality and discrimination, although it was heard as a distant voice.

The tone of the Poem

The tone of the poem fluctuates between the feeling of positivity, joy, and freedom to that of misery and sadness.

The Poet uses many vocabularies to illustrate the two contrasting images of the caged bird and the free bird vividly.

The vocabulary used is lucid and straightforward.

The poem begins with a refreshing and positive tone as the free bird’s life is described, then the tone changes to one of despair and grief.

The contrast between the conditions of the two birds is made clear by the image of the tied feet and clipped wings of the caged bird.

The relentless suffering and agony of the caged bird is expressed through words such as ‘nightmare,’ ‘grave,’ ‘clipped,’ ‘scream,’ and ‘narrow’ which add to the woeful and distressing tone of the poem.

Autobiography Sketch of Maya’s Personal Life

In many aspects, the poem can be seen as an autobiography of the Poet, Maya Angelou.

Maya is the caged bird who had to face a lot of discrimination, assault, and other aspects of harassment at an early age. She is a woman and an African-American.

Maya felt like a caged bird who could do nothing but sing.

Just like the caged bird, she did not give up but expressed her situation through writings.

She wrote for freedom, just like the caged bird sang for freedom.

Learn more on literary works such as how to tame a wild tongue

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