Maya Angelou is an American poet who lived from 1928 to 2014 and witnessed the unspeakable exploitation of African-American people in the United States by the White people.
The poem ‘Caged Bird’ is from her collection ‘Shaker, why don’t you sing’ published in 1983. The ’80s is the most productive decade in Maya Angelou’s life when alongside her role as a civil rights activist, she also wrote profusely.
This poem, just like her many other poems, operates on different levels but in an easy manner of a popular song. Angelou wrote many times for Roberta Flack and other Blues musicians.
Writing for music gave her a way to express deep pains in a melodious tune. In this poem, one can see how it is supposed to be loudly recited more than being read simply.
Maya Angelou was a singer and a dancer in her own way. ‘Caged Bird’ refers to her autobiography through metaphors. The title of this poem uses the traditional image of a bird but here it is caged.
Throughout the poem, the stanzas alternate between the life of a free bird and a caged bird to give us a poignant understanding of life without freedom.
Suzette Henke critically describes Angelou’s Caged Bird as a Trauma Narrative. The poem imaginatively through the traditional association of birds with freedom shows us “the impact of traumatic assault on the psychological integrity” of Black people.
The poem begins with the description of a free bird who can do whatever he uses to in the air because her wings are not clipped and his feet are not tied.
A caged bird, on the other hand, is imbued in the anger and humiliation of his narrow cage and can never see through it. This position is given to him by someone else, the one who oppresses him to the lowest level.
In one of her interviews, Angelou declares: “I decided many years ago to invent myself. I had obviously been invented by someone else—by a whole society—and I didn’t like their invention.”
The caged bird in the poem sings fearfully but sings nevertheless. A Black person is assaulted in his tender years by all those common forces of nature which are subverted by the Whites and their illogical hate.
A caged bird has never tasted freedom so must of the things are unknown to him but what he has is his own inner self. In her autobiography, Angelou writes that “if growing up is painful for a caged bird then being aware of her displacement is the rust of the razor that threatens the throat.” So, he finally sings.
Yasmin DeGout argues that the poetry of Angelou reconsiders the limitations imposed upon a human being. Angelou always emphasizes that Hope keeps rekindling action so that one engages with the world and grow above the lack of freedom.
The poem ‘Caged Bird’ emphasizes again and again upon the fact that the song of the caged bird is heard in distant hills too.
Even if a person is standing upon the grave of his own dreams, the melodies must be sung and heard across the world, it gives us the strength to overcome every trial of life and one rises victorious.
‘Caged Bird’ is one of many reminders by Maya Angelou of the resilience of the human spirit.