How does the poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou relate to journeys?

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Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird" sets up a contrast between the titular bird and a "free bird." Each kind of bird is described as taking a different sort of "journey," though the free bird's flight is more explicitly linked to movement.

In the first stanza, the speaker opens...

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Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird" sets up a contrast between the titular bird and a "free bird." Each kind of bird is described as taking a different sort of "journey," though the free bird's flight is more explicitly linked to movement.

In the first stanza, the speaker opens the poem by using imagery to describe the free bird's "journey":

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.
These lines illustrate the flight of the free bird, who can go anywhere he chooses. He rides the wind and "dares to claim the sky." He feels ownership of his world and of himself.
On the other hand, the caged bird, with his "clipped" wings, is trapped and only
sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
The only journey this bird can take is an imagined one, and even that is difficult, since his life has been so limited as to make that kind of adventure "unknown." Angelou continues this stanza, which is also repeated to end the poem, by writing,
his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
A "distant hill" that our free bird may have flown above is only a dream for the bird trapped in a cage. The poem implies, though, that because the song is about "freedom," the song can travel where the bird cannot.
The speaker returns to the free bird, again depicting him as the master of his domain, able to travel where he pleases. The free bird "names the sky his own," while the caged bird, in the following stanza, "stands on the grave of dreams." The speaker again says that the song is the only outlet, the only semblance of "freedom" this creature has available to him.
Again, the idea of "journeys" is not very explicit in this poem, unless you count the movement of the free bird flying across the sky. The imagined journey of the caged bird's song of freedom implies that the longing to be free can take its own kind of journey, even if the one singing cannot enjoy its physical reality.
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We'd be reading into the poem too much if we said it's definitely about journeys. It's about freedom and captivity, the longing for freedom, the nature and effect of expressing an outcry, the irrepressible nature of the spirit, and the abject unfairness of inequality. But journeys? Well, kind of. Let's try.

Other works by Angelou do deal explicitly and figuratively with journeys, which is why I agree that it's worthwhile to ask whether this poem in particular also has some undercurrent of the idea.

But when we read the poem, we see the two birds (the happy free one and the unhappy caged one) and we understand the outcry of the unhappy one, who stays in his cage. (We can interpret that as a soul "caged" by slavery that longs for freedom.) So even though the free bird is flying around and enjoying plump worms and having a great time, he's not really on a journey, and neither is the caged bird.

In fact, the lack of a journey (the unmet need for a journey) from captivity to freedom may be the most important feature of this poem.

To explore this question further, please read through the poem itself (it's short and easy to understand) and refer to this explanation of what's happening in the poem and what it means.

 

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