The poem I chose to analyze was “I know why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. I chose this poem because even at first read, I noticed that there was a deeper meaning behind this poem and I instantly connected to it. The poem compares the life of a free bird and how different it is from the life of a caged bird.
The free bird has the ability to be free and do what it pleases, while the caged bird is limited as to what it can and can’t do. As I read this poem, I was confused as to why Angelou decided to write about birds, but by the end of the poem, I understood who the birds were supposed to be representing.
After reading the poem I made the assumption that there were two birds, a free bird and a caged bird. The caged bird had “clipped wings and his feet were tied” (Angelou), so he only had the ability to sing, whereas, the free bird had the opportunity to fly anywhere he wanted, and eat whatever he pleased.
In the first stanza, lines 1-3, Angelou describes the adventures of the free bird when she says, “A free bird leaps on the back of the wind… and dips his wing in the orange suns rays.” These lines help me, the reader, picture a bird flying across a horizon, and just how free the bird is. Reading further ahead, Angelou says, “And dares to claim the sky as his own.” This line helps me further understand the extent of the freedom the free bird has.
The second stanza Angelou describes the life of the caged bird, and how “his wings are clipped and his feet are tied.” The imagery in these lines helps me picture just how trapped the caged bird is. The caged bird has been stripped of its natural ability to fly and walk. Because of these restrictions, the only thing left for the caged bird to do is sing. Similar to the second stanza, in the third stanza, Angelou describes the singing of the caged bird, saying it is “fearful trill.” She also says, “…his tune is heard on a distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.
Through these lines one can infer that the caged bird is singing is very loud, and through this trill one can hear the fear as well as the desire to be free. As the poem goes on, Angelou again emphasizes her point on how trapped the caged bird is. Line 19 says, “A caged bird stands on the grave of dreams” (Angelou).
To me this line means that the caged bird is so confined to the caged life, that he has given up on all his dreams and buried them in a grave because he knows he will probably never get the chance to achieve them.. However, I was confused as to why the caged bird continued to sing about being free if he had already given up on his dreams.
Did the caged bird’s struggles describe Angelou struggles? Something that seemed interesting to me in the poem was how the caged bird sang “a fearful trill of things unknown” (Angelou). The caged bird has never been free, and has never experienced freedom, but still desires it. This led me to believe that even though the caged bird doesn’t know exactly what it feels like to be free, he knows that anything will be better than the condition he is in now.
After reading the poem for a second time, I wondered why Angelou decided to write about this topic, and if the birds represented something deeper. With further research I found out that Maya Angelou wrote this poem in 1983. During this time, segregation and racial differences between blacks and whites were still prevalent in America.
Using this information, I concluded that the “free bird” used in the poem refers to the dominant white race, while the “caged bird” represents the oppressed black race. I can also infer, that since Angelou is a black women, she is referring to herself as the caged bird described in the poem. At this particular time period, whites were given more freedom and more rights compared to the blacks.
The black people were segregated against and weren’t given the same opportunities the whites were given. Due to this, one can infer that Angelou, being black and a woman, wasn’t given the same opportunities, and therefore felt trapped like the caged bird. She felt as if the only thing she had the ability to do was use her voice and speak out about what was happening to her and how it made her feel. This is also why Angelou decided to write this poem.
It was a way for her to use her voice to get her message out and express how she feels trapped in a society that is dominated by white males. The life of the privileged white male is representing the life of the free bird. The free bird can “claim the sky” (Angelou) and eats “fat worms” (Angelou) while the caged bird is not only enslaved in the “narrow cage” (Angelou), but has also been stripped of the ability to fly. Similarly, the black people during this time period, have been stripped of their fundamental rights as human beings, and are being oppressed by the whites. Singing, or writing, is the only way to validate their existence.
The only right that these blacks posses is the right to use their voice and express themselves. In addition to being apart of the black minority, Angelou was a women. Women were given even fewer rights as compared to men, and often were looked down upon all over there world. Her voice was used as a way to demand attention to show the world the challenges she has to face as a black women.
The poem ” I know why the Caged Bird sings” is symbolic of the hardships Maya Angelou had to face during the time period when the black community was discriminated against. Angelou knows why the caged bird sings because she is the caged bird. She didn’t possess the same freedom as the white people, and at the same time, the caged bird didn’t possess the same rights as the free bird. Singing about freedom was the only way the caged bird could express its feelings, and writing was the only way Angelou could express her opinions.
This poem is very meaningful to me because like Angelou I too often feel like the caged bird. I feel trapped in a society where I am a part of a minority group. Sometimes I feel as if my beliefs and opinions are overlooked and my feelings are not taken into account equally. This poem shows me how using your voice in order to express your thoughts can be a very effective way of commuting an idea, just as Angelou has done.
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