Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 314
Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird” is a poem about freedom and imprisonment told through the fates of two birds: one bird experiences the joy that comes with freedom, while the other experiences the horror and longing inherent to imprisonment.
The poem begins with a joyful and positive description of the free bird. A free bird is able to fly as he pleases, and he
. . . dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
The free bird is the master of his own fate. He goes where he pleases and is able to take the simple pleasures that any bird would enjoy—the warmth of the sun and the open expanse of the sky.
On the other hand, a caged bird that isn’t free longs to be so. Angelou writes,
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream.
Having lost his freedom, the caged bird will never experience the things that he dreams of. For example, he won’t be able to soar over forests or dive in the warm breeze. He won’t be able to find companionship. Instead, he is left in captivity.
Even though the bird is caged, however, he still sings:
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Angelou means that even when a bird has never experienced freedom, it’s still in the bird’s nature to crave it. Despite never having been able to soar and choose where to go, the bird rages against his captivity: he knows there has to be something better. Ultimately, the bird “sings of freedom”; this is a song that Angelou says is “heard on a distant hill.” The rage, anger, and longing of the caged bird reaches out, resonates, and makes an impact—even if rage alone will never free him.
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