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‘Caged Bird’ is written by Maya Angelou, an American poet largely known for her autobiographical works. It was first published in the collection “Shaker, who don’t you sing?” in 1983. It is a long poem dealing with the inherent need for freedom in human beings.
Angelou’s life is a testament to the whole Black American’s lives and the way they have struggled throughout history against every form of exploitation and looked for freedom. This poem sings that narration through the traditional metaphor of bird.
The poem has 38 lines which are divided into 6 stanzas. There is no particular form to this poem, it is largely written in free verse.
Adding contrast to the title of the poem, the poet begins with a description of a free bird. It describes how a bird that is free to fly performs all kinds of tricks in the air. A free bird can flow with the wind stream.
It reminds us of the people who are free to live as they wish. They can do whatever they want to. A free bird dips his wing in the orange sun rays. A person who is free can take part in the brightness of this world. Only a free person can dare to claim the sky. Freedom knows no limit.
The poet then talks of a bird who is limited to a narrow cage. Such a bird can not see through his bars of rage. Restriction from freedom fills us with hesitation towards life. In such anger, one can not see ahead.
A bird inside the cage has no wings to fly because they are clipped and his feet are tied. He can not go anywhere so he can use his mouth only which is free to sing. It reminds us of the poet’s own life in which she faced so much but kept singing poems.
Again the poet compares the free bird to a caged bird who can only sing fearfully. Due to the lack of freedom, most of the things from the outer world are unknown to the caged bird so he longs for them.
A song travels from place to place so the song of the caged bird can also be heard in distant hills. It means, her claims for freedom through her poetry are now known in distant places too.
Here, the poet primarily draws out the fact that only in freedom, one can see the beauty of this world. The free bird thinks of a comfortable breeze. For him, the wind goes softly through trees.
He has good food ready to eat. The fat worms are waiting for him on a beautiful lawn where he can freely fly and eat them. He has the freedom to name his own sky. The lack of freedom doesn’t allow a person to even name things for him.
Alternatively, the poet speaks of a caged bird who can never act on his dreams. His dreams remain dreams without any fruition into reality. He stands on the grave of his own dreams which died out slowly.
A caged bird is afraid of its own shadows. His dreams are now turned into nightmares and his shadow reminds him of that.
It is the unimaginable exploitation which the poet and her people went through. As a caged bird, whose wings are clipped and feet are tied, she can only sing now.
The poet finally ends with a gleaming picture of a caged bird who sings a rapidly alternating tune full of fear. The poem as a song repeats its earlier images of longing for the unknown in a caged bird.
There is still hope because his tune is traveling across distant places and everyone is noticing because he sings of freedom.