“I know why the caged bird sings“ of 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.

The poem “I know why the caged bird sings” holds a special place in the creative work of the African-American poetess Maya Angelou. As a matter of fact, this is not just a poem, but a manifesto of a kind, which gave the name to the entire autobiographical book.

Born in the beginning of the ХХth century, Margaret Ann Johnson (this is her real name) made the long way from an oppressed and humiliated African-American kid to a person, who is able to speak on behalf of her compatriots, women, all oppressed ones. The poem “I know why the caged bird sings” represents an opposition of its kind of a free bird and a bird born in a cage, whose wings are cut off and feet are entangled.

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 words of this stanza are filled, on one hand, with oppositions, on the other, with realization of hopeless overconfidence of a free bird, and of hopelessness of the second encaged. In both cases, the result is the same – a bird (as a person) – cannot possess the sky (the world). And each of them is richer in something: the encaged one – in a dream and song, the free one– in flight, but not in a dream about the flight.

One can realize deep senses put by the author into these lines only having learned more of the life and dreams of the African-American poetess. Really, the woman, who came through sexual violence and indifference of the relatives, menial works and prostitution in the youth, on the way to her dream, knows exactly, “why the caged bird sings”. They sing about their dream, but only few of them get chance to realize this dream. And they will have to stain every sinew for reaching the sky.

The final stanza reveals the secret of the song – this is the song about freedom. “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”. Is this dream really so unattainable? Bothe the poem and the author’s experience say yes and not. Yes, because it is challenging to achieve one`s freedom, but, if one sings about it, this is the first step from a cage. It is a stepping stone to comprehension free from inside. Not – because the society still holds prejudice against blacks, the poor and other vulnerable people. Both weak and strong perish without having ended a song, without having achieved freedom. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, her colleagues in struggle for civil rights were killed, having paid their price for the freedom of others. Or for a dream and sings of freedom?

Reviewed by Katerina Sidoruk

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