Caged Bird

Jake Bardack

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 sun 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.

Explication

The speaker talks about two birds, the free bird and the caged bird. The free bird flies about, but the caged bird is trapped in his cage. The caged bird still sings, and he sings of freedom. The poem is not narrative, it is descriptive. The poem expresses sadness in the caged bird and happiness in the free bird. These emotions are intensified through juxtaposition. The speaker is not clear. She speaks directly to the reader. The reader can trust the speaker. The speaker tells the story, possibly intensifying the states of the two birds. When reading the poem out loud, one should speak softly and slowly. Phrases such as “bars of rage” and “grave of dreams” indicate this. The poem has 38 short lines. The short lines make the poem more poignant. The poem is not traditional form; however it does have some sort of inconsistent rhyme scheme. The poem develops by alternating speaking about the free bird and the caged bird. The poem, in a very subtle way, moves from despair to hope. There are a total of five complicated sentences in the poem. The usual “noun, verb” order is used. The only punctuation used is periods. Angelou uses enjambment. There are only five periods in the whole poem. The title of the poem is “Caged Bird”. This shows emphasis on the caged bird over the free bird, telling the reader that the caged bird is in some way more significant than the free bird. The language is formal, but simple. Shorter words are used to make the poem seem more poignant. The reader most likely knows what all of the words mean. The poem definitely shows a sense of imprisonment through the words. There are no allusions. The speaker uses imagery when describing the sky that the free bird soars in. When describing the caged bird, the speaker used less imagery, and uses more straightforward words. This gives juxtaposition between the worlds of the two birds. There is a rhyme scheme, but it is inconsistent. There is a rhythm in the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. There is assonance to make words rhyme.

Maya Angelou's masterpiece "Caged Bird"

About the Author, Maya Angelou

Born Marguerite Annie Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri in 1928, Angelou was a civil rights activist, actress, and writer. She is most known for her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou passed away in 2014. Angelou was battling with civil rights for a majority of her life. She likely wrote this poem seeing herself as the caged bird seeking freedom. This poem was so important that Angelou named her memoir after it.