What is the poem "Caged Bird" based on?

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Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird ” is based on an earlier poem by an African American author by the name of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar, who lived from 1872–1906, was the son of parents who endured lives of slavery. He became an influential author, not only through his...

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Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird” is based on an earlier poem by an African American author by the name of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar, who lived from 1872–1906, was the son of parents who endured lives of slavery. He became an influential author, not only through his poetry, but through his many literary works, which included poems, novels, and essays.

His poem “Sympathy,” written in 1899, provided Ms. Angelou with material for her famous poem “Caged Bird” and the title for her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The third stanza of his poem is thought to have been the most inspirational. As the son of slaves, Dunbar knew the restrictions racism put on the lives of oppressed people, and this poem expresses the emotions which resided in his soul.

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,  

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—

I know why the caged bird sings!

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