‘Caged Bird’ is a poem comparing two birds, one a free one and the other a caged one. It was published in 1983 in a collection called ‘Shaker, Why Don’t you Sing?’She had written a memoir and it was titled ‘I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings’. This poem might not be the experiences of Mary Angelou but the experiences of the Afro American community to which Mary Angelou belonged.
About the Poet
Mary Angelou (April 4, 1928 to May 28 2014) played so many roles in her life time but was known mainly as a writer and activist. When Angelou was about seven she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and the man was murdered by her uncles. This incident shook her and she stopped talking for 5 years. But it was during this time that her love for language developed and she read a lot of books including the works of William Shakespeare. She received many awards in the various fields she worked in, but the most prestigious roles in her life were the terms she served in the presidential committees – one during Gerald Ford’s tenure in 1975 and for Jimmy Carter in 1977.
A bird that is free catches the wind and float with the current of the wind and when it ends he ‘dares to claim the sky’ again. Now contrast it to the bird in the cage. The caged bird can hardly see through the bars of the cage and flying is impossible because his ‘wings are clipped’ and his feet are tied. All that he can do is to sing and sing a ‘fearful trill’ for fear is all that he knows. The song is about things that are not known but for which the bird longed for and that was ‘freedom’. The caged bird’s song is heard far away in the hills. The free bird on the other hand is waiting for the next ‘breeze ’which blows through the trees and all that he is thinking is, about the ‘fat worms’ waiting at dawn on the lawn. Once the worm is caught the sky is all his to roam around. The caged bird has dreams but they are dead so he ‘stands on the grave of dreams’. Even his shadow screams as if seeing a nightmare. The last two lines of the fifth stanza and the sixth stanza are a repeat of the last lines of the second stanza and the third stanza.
‘Caged Bird’ has six stanzas with four lines with the first, fourth and sixth stanzas having five lines. There is no rhyme scheme to the poem but there are lines that rhyme adding to the lyrical quality of the poem. The rhyming words are ‘cage, rage; trill, still; breeze, trees’. There are internal rhymes like ‘dawn and lawn’; things and sings’. Alliteration is a literary device in which a series of words in a line begin with the same sound. ‘Seldom see’, ‘worms waiting’, ‘shadow shouts’ are the examples of alliteration. The poem is rich in imagery with the images of free bird, caged bird and all that goes with the two birds especially the free bird. The free bird is an allusion to the white American people and the caged bird is an allusion to the African Americans. Personification is another device used for the birds are referred to by using the pronoun ‘his’. So too the description of the ‘sighing trees’ is the personification of the trees. Through the lives of the birds Mary Angelou speaks for her community and compares them to the white American community.