Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Angelou does not allow meter, rhyme, and stanza to control her poetry. She determines her own structure—or lack of it—and uses form and device for her own means; she searches for the sound, the tempo, the rhythm, and the rhyme appropriate for each line.

“Caged Bird” is an example of unstructured verse. The number of beats per line varies; for example, line 1 has four beats, line 2 has six, line 3 has four, and line 4 has five. The number of lines in each stanza fluctuates as well; stanzas 1 and 2 have seven lines each, but stanzas 3 and 4 have eight. In addition to her use of the intermittent stanza, Angelou repeats stanza 3 as stanza 5; this repetition is reminiscent of the chorus in a song. The only other structuring device that Angelou employs in the thirty-eight lines is sporadic rhyme. For instance, only lines 9 and 11 in the entire first two stanzas use rhyming words (“cage” and “rage”); in the fourth stanza only lines 30 and 31 rhyme (“breeze” and “trees”). The only other rhyming words that Angelou uses—and at her own discretion—are in the third stanza, which she repeats as stanza 5. She rhymes “trill” and “still” with “hill”; she also rhymes “heard” and “bird.”

The repetition of the third stanza gives some predictability to the poem and allows the reader to participate actively in the unpleasant plight of the caged bird. By contrast, other parts of the poem are unpredictable and at times even pleasurable; the joy of the free bird makes it possible for the reader to bear the tragic story of the oppressed...

(The entire section is 647 words.)