Maya Angelou was a Black American poet and Civil rights activist born in the late 1920s. She was respected as a spokesperson for black people in general and women in particular, and her works have been considered as a defence of America?s black culture. The Birds are a popular symbol in poetry, which were used as an expression of freedom by the Romantics and sometimes symbolized poetry itself. Maya Angelou deviates from the norm by not only speaking about the bird?s freedom but also conveying its sorrow and rage.
The caged bird is a symbol of the plight of Black American people. Its song is a reference to how slaves in the 19th century came together at Congo Square to sing as a way of remembering their heritage. The bars of rage on the caged bird?s cage is supposed to represent the bird?s blinding anger at being locked up.
The free bird is the polar opposite of its caged counterpart and serves to highlight everything the caged bird lacks. The free bird has the freedom to do what a person would believe birds enjoy. The free bird is able to do whatever it pleases, which is in sharp contrast to the caged bird which can only ever hope for freedom.
In the first stanza, Maya Angelou presents the free bird. The strong verbs used are supposed to convey how static the free bird is, and how it never seems to stay in one place. The free bird claims the sky as its own for it never had anything else to share it with. Maya Angelou uses the two narratives to create a jarring contrast. The condition of the cage bird seems even more distressing next to the joy and happiness of the free bird?s life.
The second stanza changes the atmosphere completely. Its main focus is on the caged bird and its pain as being confined. The cage?s narrow form shows how limiting its confines are as opposed to the openness of the free bird?s sky. The bars of rage refers to how due to its anger and pain, the caged bird can barely see past its sorrow. The clipped wings and bound feet are supposed to show how it?s freedom was taken away from it. The line where the bird opens his mouth to sing is a turning point in the stanza as it is the only thing that the bird can do willingly. The change to the dark mood of the cage bird?s narrative is made all the move jarring by the considerably lighter mood of the first stanza.
The third stanza goes deeper into the caged bird?s song. The bird sings with fear and apprehension for it doesn?t wish to live the rest of its life in such a confined manner. The next two lines of things unknown and longed for still is a paradox, for someone cannot long for something they do not know. Here, Angelou is referring to the way someone who was captive all his life would yearn for freedom. It states that it is an innate emotion to have control over one?s self even if the person in question has never had the chance to feel that way. The caged bird?s song reaching far enough to the distant hill is a metaphor for how calls of justice are always heard, but not always reciprocated.
In the fourth stanza, the free bird thinks of things that the caged bird has never experienced and has had the privilege to enjoy them. The fat worms mentioned could be seen as a kind of privilege along with the dawn bright lawn because they seem there just to serve the free bird?s desires. By naming the sky his own, the free bird states that there is no other being that is obliged to share it with. This aligns with the preconceived notion that some groups of people are born with rights over others.
In the fifth stanza, the tone shifts yet again from the free bird?s bright imagery to the chilling narrative of the caged bird. The grave of dreams refers to all the hopes the caged bird might have had at an earlier age than now seems irrelevant or impossible at its current stage. The caged bird?s shadow is a personification of his powerlessness. The nightmare problem refers to a small part of the caged bird that fears it will never be released. The caged bird continues to sing despite its wavering resilience, showing that it?s beliefs that life will get better and will continue to persist.
The final stanza is a repeat of the third, which delves into the bird?s song. The bird cries out about freedom, but it?s never stated if its cries are ever heard by its free-flying twin.