Caged Bird Summary
by Maya Angelou

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Caged Bird Summary

In "Caged Bird," poet Maya Angelou uses birds as an extended metaphor to convey the frustration and suffering of those who are oppressed. 

  • Angelou first describes the joy that a free bird takes in soaring through the sky.

  • Angelou then describes a bird that has been caged, its feet tied and wings clipped.

  • The caged bird rails against its imprisonment. In spite of its fear, it sings of freedom.

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Maya Angelou’s poem “Caged Bird,” published in 1983, is a celebration of African American resilience and dignity. Employing a simple metaphor—birds—Angelou powerfully evokes the pain and rage of one who is oppressed by contrasting their suffering with the carefree and willful ignorance of one who is free.


The first stanza of the poem "Caged Bird" describes a free bird. The free bird is able to choose where he goes and when: he rides the wind, enjoys the sun, and "dares to claim the sky." His life is depicted as joyous, carefree, and full of possibilities.

The second stanza introduces the caged bird, juxtaposing the idyllic existence of the free bird with caged bird's misery. The caged bird finds it difficult to see out from inside his cage, as he is trapped not by simple cage bars, but "bars of rage." The caged bird "stalks" his prison, unable to overcome his anger because he is surrounded by constant reminders of his narrow and oppressive life: “his wings are clipped and / his feet are tied.” His captivity prevents him from soaring free, as his own nature demands; the only thing left for him to do is to "open his throat to sing" his pain and anger. 

In the third stanza, the caged bird sings fearfully of the freedom he has never known. Though true freedom is "unknown," this doesn't stop the caged bird from yearning for it. He knows there's a better life waiting outside his cage, and his cry for freedom travels far, until it is heard “on the distant hill.”

The fourth stanza turns to the life of free bird. The free bird dreams of the things he loves most: soft breezes, sighing forests, and tasty worms in the morning—all of which are experiences the caged bird has never had. The free bird "names the sky his own" because he is utterly free to take advantage...

(The entire section is 530 words.)