Paul Laurence Dunbar

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What are some elements outside the bird's cage in the poem "Sympathy"?

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In Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "Sympathy," a caged bird is surrounded by a beautiful natural scene, full of all manner of lovely things that the bird can see but cannot enjoy. There is a "bright" sun that shines on the hills and valleys and a "soft" wind that stirs the plants through which it blows; there is "springing grass" that quivers in that soft breeze and a clear, clean river that flows like a "stream of glass." The buds of the flowers begin to open up, and they release their "faint perfume" into the breezes. It is a beautiful scene.

The bird flies around in its cage, beating itself bloody, though it cannot reach the beauty around it. He would like, as the speaker says in the second stanza, to go and rest on one of the tree boughs nearby, but he cannot because he is trapped behind the bars of his cage—a cage which seems all the more cruel because it allows the bird to see the lovely world without being able to be a part of it himself. The bird is a symbol for a person of color—someone who can look around at all the privilege white people enjoy but who is prevented from enjoying it himself.

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