Introduction of the “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou
“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou, a celebrated American writer and poet, is a sad poem. The poem presents us with two birds; the free bird and a caged bird. She places both birds in contrast and comments on their way of living. In the beginning, she artistically draws the carefree and joyous flight of the free bird who flaps his wings in the air and freely claims the sky. In contrast, the bird locked in the narrow cage barely sees the vivid images of nature. He, with his tied feet and clipped wings, fails to enjoy even the little Freedom.
To shake the world, the poor bird tries to sing with a fearful trill. He sings for the Freedom he once enjoyed. But, unfortunately, this imprisonment has derived him from the glories of life. In contrast, the free bird thinks of another flight and dreams of visiting other unknown lands, while the caged bird screams in a small cage. All he can do is sing the song of his miserable plight, hoping to relive a free and valuable life.
Major Themes in “Caged Bird”
“Caged Bird” exhibits a universal thematic strand such as Freedom versus slavery, the miserable plight of the suppressed community, and sadness. The poem talks about two birds; one is free while the other is in a small cage. Throughout the poem, the poet compares and contrasts their quality of life. She hooks the reader by applying varied tones in the poem as it became joyous when talking about a free bird.
The speaker joyously highlights how a free bird tastes the fruits of a blessed life. He claims the sky and chooses to live his life freely. But, on the other hand, when the speaker talks about a caged bird, his cries remain unheard, and his misery does not shake the world. It seems that he is destined to live in this way, and there seems no hope of any change.
On a deeper level, while talking about these birds, the writer criticizes the indifferent approach of the world. The world treats superiors with great respect; no one questions the way they walk on the face of the earth. However, when it comes to inadequate or suppressed communities, the world gives them the cold shoulder, making them feel that their cries make no difference. Due to this satirical and ironic approach, minorities have to suffer at the hands of superior people.
Note: Please visit the following link to listen to the poem.
Analysis of Literary Elements Used in “Caged Bird”
The poem “Caged Bird” contains several literary as well as poetic devices. The first evident device is assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds in the same verse: “and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees.” In addition, the writer has repeated the sounds of /e/ and /o/ to emphasize her point.
Similarly, she has used imagery to create a mental picture of the words in her reader’s mind, such as; “and the fat worms waiting on a bright dawn lawn” and “But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams.”
Since every word of the poet conveys deeper and symbolic meaning, Maya Angelou has also used Symbolism in this poem. The free bird symbolizes the upper class that enjoys every bliss of life, while the “caged bird” stands for the black people. Another powerful literary element is irony; she has used this device to show how the world gives the cold shoulder to the caged bird’s depressing and attention-seeking song.
Besides literary devices, the poet has also inserted some poetic devices to add more variety. To make her words sound louder, she divided this poem into five stanzas carrying different verses. Although the poem does not follow any strict rhyme or meter, yet at some places, she has inserted end rhyme. End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious; some of the examples of end rhyme are still/hill, cage/rage, and heard/bird.
In-depth Analysis of the “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou
This stanza highlights the carefree flight of a free bird. The speaker explains how he flies up and down following the pattern of the winds. He confidently dips his wings in the orange sun rays and claims the sky his own.
This stanza highlights the suffering of the bird who stalks down in his narrow imprisonment. Unfortunately, he cannot taste the joys of the beautiful natural world because his feet are tied, and his wings are clipped. However, his mouth dares to sing to the world.
This stanza sheds light on the struggle of the caged bird. The writer explains that the caged bird thinks fearfully of the things he does not know but still desires to talk about them. Also, his songs are heard far away as distant hills because the poor bird sings about Freedom.
Once again, the writer focuses on the free bird who thinks about another breeze and the global winds. He also thinks of his prey, the fat worms waiting to be eaten on the ground in the morning light. His Freedom has made him superior to the extent that he thinks he owns the sky.
After discussing the glorious life of the free bird, the speaker talks about the challenges the caged bird faces in life. His terrifying imprisonment bars him from enjoying the true colors of life. It seems he stands on the grave of his dreams, and inside, there screams a nightmare. But, unfortunately, his rights are snatched, so he tries to shake the world with his sobbing voice.
The repetition of the third stanza at the end emphasizes the rights of the caged bird who fearfully opens up his mouth and sings for Freedom. He does not sing to rejuvenate himself. Instead, he sings to make the world aware of the problems he faces in that tiny cage.
To conclude, “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou is a sad poem that reflects the troubles of the minorities. Yet, it brilliantly presents a stark comparison between the two birds to underpin the bitter realities of the world.