I KNOW WHY THE CAGE BIRD SINGSI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: About the poem“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is a free versewritten by the American poet and civil rightsactivist Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou is widely regardedas the “Black Woman’s Poet Laureate.” Her reflectionson the society and the times she lived in are vividlyexpressed in her poetry.Outwardly the poem “I know why the caged bird sings”or “Caged Bird” as it is often interchangeably known, canbe seen as a reflection on social disparity, and the idealsof freedom and justice. Angelou, with the metaphor ofbirds, represents the inequality of justice seen in thesociety of her time which differentiates between theAfrican-American community and its White Americancounterpart. Through her poem, she also illustrates thenature of both freedom and captivity by creating a starkcontrast between the two using birds as the metaphor.The poem is divided into six stanzas, describing the stateof two birds, where one is free and ‘floats’ and ‘dares toclaim the sky’, while the other is caged in his ‘bar ofrage’. The first and the third stanza shows the delight ofthe free bird experiencing freedom, whereas the rest of thestanzas concentrate on the plight of the caged bird.
Angelou puts greater emphasis on the lamentable state ofthe caged bird, and contrasts this with that of the free bird.Although the poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings hasno definitive rhyme scheme, it creates the illusion ofrhyme with the clever use of consonance. Theenjambment in the poem draws the reader’s eye to thingsof importance in a blunt manner.Stanza wise analysis : I Know Why the Caged BirdSingsFirst StanzaThe free bird leapson the back of the windand floats downstreamtill the current endsand dips his wingsin the orange sun raysand dares to claim the sky.The opening lines show a bird leaping ‘on the back of thewind’ demonstrating the freedom it experience to moveabout and glide freely through the air. It hovers over astream of wind and floats downwards to where the currentof the stream ends and the wind is calm. It dips its wing inthe sea of orange sunlight.
The bird is shown in a state of great tranquility. It has thefreedom to move about wherever it desires. It is so utterlyfree and without restraints that it ‘dares to claim the sky’.The whole firmament is his one big home.Second stanza:But a bird that stalksdown his narrow cagecan seldom see throughhis bars of ragehis wings are clipped andhis feet are tiedso he opens his throat to sing.Here, poet Maya Angelou contrasts the situation bypresenting the image of a caged bird. The caged bird triesto go after his cage in vain. The cage is narrow and itsmetaphorical bars are of rage. The caged bird is seen to beangry with its situation. It desires with all its heart toescape its plight. But the caged bird cannot see beyond hiscage.Its wings are clipped, that is, its freedom is taken away.Wings are associated with flight, which in turn isassociated with freedom. The words ‘his wings areclipped’ mean that its freedom is forcibly taken away. Itcannot fly even if it desires to. Its feet are tied.
A bird tied to the ground represents an image completelyopposite to its true nature of flight. This represents thefact of alienation of the bird. But the most important thingis that despite being in this utterly despondentpredicament, the caged bird ‘opens his throat to sing.’That seems to be his only joy and achievement in life.Third Stanza:The caged bird singswith fearful trillof the things unknownbut longed for stilland his tune is heardon the distant hillfor the caged birdsings of freedomThe caged bird has a wavering voice. He is singing offreedom, something he does not have. The idea offreedom is his dream, one he cannot achieve. So, he singsabout it. There is fear in his voice. He had never knownwhat freedom tastes like, but hopes to have it for his own.His voice can be heard from distant places, on hills whereit inspires others to dream of freedom. The caged birddoesn’t sing of sadness, but of hope, inspiration and offreedom.
Fourth stanza:The free bird thinks of another breezeand the trade winds soft through the sighing treesand the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawnand he names the sky his own.The free bird on the other hand revels in his freedom. Heenjoys flying through the trade wind that blows throughthe trees. ‘Sighing trees’ probably refers to the sighingsound made by the breeze while passing through the leafybranches. It gives an indication to their lack of freedom,as the trees are also ‘tied’ to the ground like the cagedbird.The free bird thinks of the fat worm that will be his food.With the wind in his feathers, water and earth beneathhim, and the whole sky with him, he feels majestic in hisfreedom and calls the entire sky his own domain. By‘names the sky his own’ the poet’s wishes to express thatthe bird knows himself to be the proprietor of this wholeuniverse. Here the sky stands for the universe.Fifth stanza:But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreamshis shadow shouts on a nightmare screamhis wings are clipped and his feet are tiedso he opens his throat to sing.
The caged, inversely, knows that he is not flying in thesky, that he is not free, but a captive, a prisoner. He thus‘stands on the grave of dreams’ He knows his dreams offlying in a free firmament, to experience freedom is futile.He had lost all hope of freedom. His shadow ‘shouts on anightmare scream’. It is more pitiable, more adverse thana nightmare. His wings are clipped and feet are tied; thereis only a little hope of freedom, and so the bird opens histhroat to sing. The bird wishes to travail against alladversities. There is a faint but kindling voice of hope inhis song.Sixth stanza:The caged bird singswith a fearful trillof things unknownbut longed for stilland his tune is heardon the distant hillfor the caged birdsings of freedom.This refrain recurring as a stanza justifies the bird’s stoutdetermination to keep going after his dream offreedom. Moreover, the caged bird chooses to sing as this
is the only freedom available to him, that he can enjoywithout any restriction. His wings are clipped, feet aretied, but his throat is not chocked yet. This is somethingthe poet have felt at heart and that’s why she uses thetitle ‘I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings’.This might be seen as the poet’s message to raise ourvoice, to express ourselves even though the strongerwants to suppress the weaker and to never ever give up,no matter what situation we are in.In many ways the poem ‘I Know Why the Caged BirdSings’ can be considered as the poet’s personalexpression. Maya Angelou can be regarded as the cagedbird in the poem. A stanza in the poem is repeated tocatch the attention to the idea of the caged bird singingfor freedom. The poem uses a metaphor to compare cagedbirds to African Americans fighting for equality duringthe civil rights movement.