What are examples of imagery in the poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou?

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Imagery is an umbrella term for a range of specific language techniques, including, most commonly, metaphors, personification, and symbolism. The quotations below provide examples of these different techniques. The first two quotations describe the free bird in the poem, and the second two quotations describe the caged bird.
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Imagery is an umbrella term for a range of specific language techniques, including, most commonly, metaphors, personification, and symbolism. The quotations below provide examples of these different techniques. The first two quotations describe the free bird in the poem, and the second two quotations describe the caged bird.
"A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind"
The wind is a recurring motif throughout the poem, and is used to symbolize the freedom of the free bird. Wind is often used throughout poetry to symbolize freedom—it seems to go where it pleases and it is not bound by barriers or restraints like the other elements (earth, fire, water) can be.
"The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees"
In this quotation, we have again the recurring motif of the wind to symbolise freedom, and we also have the personification of the wind "sighing." The personification (attributing to something that isn't the characteristics of humans) in this instance, when considered in the wider context of the poem, suggests a kind of daydreaming sigh, the kind that one might emit when relaxed and at peace with the world, as the free bird is.
"a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams"
In contrast to the positive imagery used to describe the free bird, the imagery used to describe the caged bird is much darker, and in the example of this third quotation, more macabre. The caged bird "stand(ing) on the grave of dreams" is a metaphor because he isn't literally standing on any grave, but the metaphor conjures up images of death, which is appropriate given that the caged bird's dreams of freedom and flight have been effectively killed by the constraints of its cage.
"a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage"
This fourth quotation also includes a metaphor with the "bars of rage." There are literally bars on the bird's cage, but by describing them metaphorically as made "of rage," Maya Angelou is suggesting that the caged bird is also imprisoned by its own anger. We can empathize with this if ever we have felt trapped or in some way restricted by emotions that we can't control.
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There are multiple examples of imagery in Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird." From the very first line, we get a visual and tactile image of a free bird leaping on the wind and floating downstream. He dips his wings in orange sun rays. We can almost feel the bird's sense of elation and complete lack of inhibition with these joyous lines of imagery.

This beautiful image is juxtaposed with that of a caged bird. We get visual images of his wings being clipped and feet being tied. The auditory imagery of his "shadow shouting on a nightmare scream" gives a sense of great unease to the reader. Yet it is the caged bird who opens its mouth to sing. This last piece of imagery drives home the message that singing is an act of yearning.

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When an author creates imagery, he or she uses words that create a mental picture in the reader's mind. Only sensory words can create mental images; therefore, imagery concerns any words or phrases that pertain to the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. In contrast, abstract concepts such as love and sorrow do not create mental images; however, an author can surround such abstract concepts with imagery in order create a picture in a reader's mind that helps the reader better understand the point being expressed concerning the abstract concept (Literary Devices, "Imagery"). Maya Angelou's poem "Caged Bird" is certainly full of imagery in every line and every stanza.

The very first image we see is that of a "free bird" leaping on the "back of the wind." Since we can literally see a bird in nature leaping, jumping, or flying against the wind, we can see how this counts as a sight image. Other images we see are that of the bird floating "downstream" and dipping its wing "in the orange sun rays." Since the poet is now speaking of a bird in relation to a stream, we get the sense she is speaking of a waterfowl, like a duck. Plus, since we can literally see things floating downstream we know that the phrase "floats downstream" counts as a sight image. In addition, though a bird will not literally dip its wings into the rays of the sun, we know that the sun's rays reflect on surfaces of water. Hence, based on the final couple of lines in the first stanza, we can picture the bird literally dipping its wings into the image of the sun reflected on the water and then flying off into the sky. Since we can literally see a bird doing such things in nature, we know that these count as sight images as well.

The sight images of the bird free in nature stand in great contrast to the sight images of a bird held captive in a cage in the next stanza. The juxtaposition of images of free and caged birds help to illustrate her themes concerning the effects of captivity, such as slavery.

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