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Maya Angelou

(1928 - Present)

 

Maya Angelou

 

 

 

 

 

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson.  She is an author, poet, historian, songwriter, playwright, dancer, stage and screen producer, director, performer, singer, and civil rights activist.  She is best known for her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was nominated for the National Book Award.  Her poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, although Angelou interprets the reason for the bird’s singing differently than Dunbar.


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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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.

 


Paul Laurence Dunbar

(1872 – 1906)

 

Paul Laurence Dunbar

 

Born to freed slaves from Kentucky, Dunbar grew up in Ohio.  Although Dunbar was an excellent student, he was financially unable to attend college.  Nevertheless Dunbar continued to write and eventually drew acclaim for his poetry, becoming one of America’s premiere African-American poets.

 

 

Sympathy

Paul Luarence Dunbar

 

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!

   When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;

When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,

And the river flows like a stream of glass;

   When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,

And the faint perfume from its chalice steals--

I know what the caged bird feels!

 

I know why the caged bird beats its wing

   Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

   And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting--

I know why he beats his wing!


I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

   When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,--

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

   But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--

I know why the caged bird sings!


Task 3 Essay

Write a comparison essay with the controlling idea of the human struggle using the poems "Sympathy" and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Be sure to include literary elements in your discussion of the poems.