I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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 suns 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.

Summary of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

  1. Popularity: Written by Maya Angelou, a popular African American poet, the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an excellent literary piece. The poem reflects facts of the racial segregation or social discrimination in American society against the black people. Using the metaphors of caged and free birds, Maya Angelou has highlighted the nature of captivity and the importance of American ideals of freedom, liberty, and
  2. Criticism on the Racial Discrimination: Maya Angelou has presented two birds. One is caged, and the other is free. The caged bird represents African Americans and their sorrowful plight compared to the white Americans. She says that the free bird has the freedom to move anywhere in the world, while the caged bird is in captivity, full of pain and rage. African Americans did not have the freedom to move and enjoy life as white people before the Civil Rights Movement. The freedom of the free bird and the alienation and captivity of the caged bird have been compared and contrasted about both the communities, and the positive points of freedom have been highlighted.
  3. Major Themes: There are two major themes in the poem. The first major theme is given in the first stanza which is freedom. It is given through the image of a free bird which goes wherever it wants, ranging from enjoyment on stream to soaring in the wind. The second theme is captivity that cripples the bird in the cage. This theme goes on in the third stanza and tries to state that the caged bird is forced to sing a song of freedom. Then the free bird again comes into view in the fourth stanza and enjoys life on trade winds, trees and in the width and breadth of the sky. Next stanzas describe the caged bird’s fear while it is trying to sing a tune for its freedom during its bondage.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Maya Angelou has used various literary devices to enhance the intended impacts of her poem. Some of the major literary devices have been analyzed below.

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is a literary device in which a series of words begin with the same consonant sound. This poem is rich with alliterations and its examples can be seen in the repetition of /s/ sound in “seldom see through” and then /w/ sound in “worms waiting” and then again /sh/ sound in “shadows shouts.”
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the use of vowel sounds in quick succession. The poem has a couple of assonances, for example, /i/ sounds in ‘distant hills’ and ‘sings with fearful hills’.
  3. Consonance: Consonance means repetitive sounds produced by consonants within a sentence or phrase. In the lines “But a bird that stalks down” /b/ sounds have been repeated and in the same way, /d/ sound is repeated in “trade winds.”
  4. Imagery: As imagery pertains to five senses, this poem is full of different images. “free bird” and “back of wind” images for sight and feelings. Similarly, there are some images such as “orange sun rays” is for sight, and “throat to sing” is for hearing.
  5. Metaphors: There are two major metaphors. The first metaphor is of the free bird that is for the white Americans or free people, while the caged bird is the metaphor of African Americans and their captivity in the social norms.
  6. Personification: Maya Angelou has used personification such as “sighing trees” as if trees are feeling sorrow. Also, she has personified the bird by changing its pronoun from ‘its’ to ‘his’.
  7. Symbol: Maya Angelou has used different symbols to show the racial discrimination and social construction against her community. The caged bird is a symbol of imprisonment, while his song is a symbol of freedom.

This analysis shows that this poem has used literary devices to point out the importance of freedom before the Civil War era and even now.

Analysis of the Poetic Devices in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

Although most of the poetic devices are part of literary devices, yet some devices are only used in poems. The analysis of some of the major poetic devices used in this poem is given here.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make a stanza melodious such as in the first and second line the third stanza the rhyming words are “trill”, “still” and “shrill”.
  2. Internal Rhyme: The internal rhyme is rhyme within a line such as in the line “waiting on a dawn bright lawn” two words “dawn” and “lawn” rhyme with each other.
  3. Repetition: The poetic, as well as the rhetorical device of repetition, emphasizes a point through repetition such as “A free bird thinks” and “The caged bird sings” which have been repeated in the poem several times.
  4. Stanza: The poet has used stanzas with a different number of lines with no regular rhyme scheme.

Quotes for usage from “I know why the caged bird sings” 

  1. These two lines can be used on the occasion of a speech given about freedom or liberty.

“A free bird leaps on the back of the wind

and floats downstream till the current ends.”

  1. These two lines can be used to make the people realize about the wildlife and the value of freedom for the birds.

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill

of things unknown but longed for still.”