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Summary and Analysis

A prevalent writer and headstrong woman, Louisa May Alcott wrote many poems and novels that portray independent and flawed female characters. Alcott’s poem “A Little Bird I Am,” published in 1880, portrays a sense of entrapment by a male society and gives a satirical portrayal of a woman’s expected place within the world. The poem’s speaker fights against these expectations through an underlying sarcastic tone and a succinct paradox of a bird that’s happy to be imprisoned.

Louisa May Alcott’s poem “A Little Bird I Am” is clean and short, with only two six-line stanzas. It uses a rhyme pattern in which the second and fourth lines rhyme, and each stanza ends with a rhyming couplet. Alcott also employs internal rhyme schemes, alliteration, and an inverted syllabic structure. The syllabic structure points to the paradox that the poem is. Halfway through each stanza of six lines, the meter flips, creating a shift from trimeter to tetrameter. This change may cause readers to feel an uncanny discomfort, as the tetrameter at the end of each stanza depict wrong, violent, or strange imagery.

The speaker portrays herself as a caged bird who appears, on the outside, to love and happily sing for her captor. However, the underlying sarcastic tone in the poem creates paradoxical metaphors that speak the truth of the poem. The speaker means to show that her freedom has been taken.

First Stanza

“A Little Bird I Am” begins with a hyperbaton, or an inverted sentence. The speaker claims, “A little bird I am / Shut from the fields of air.” By using a hyperbaton in line one, the speaker places emphasis on “I am” in order to focus the poem on the speaker or subject. It also suggests an inversion of meaning, in which the reader should read the poem as a satire or mockery.

In line two, the speaker reinforces this claim by stating she is “Shut from the fields of air.” A bird is often interpreted as a symbol of freedom. The speaker describes herself as being kept from her natural environment, making her small and powerless when she should be free and inviolable.

Lines three and four show the reason for the speaker’s entrapment: “And in my cage I sit and sing / to Him who placed me there.” Line three invokes the idea of birdsong, which connotes joy and is typically heard in nature. The imagery of a bird's singing from a cage creates a melancholic vision. By using this contradictory image, the speaker urges readers to feel indignation or frustration with the speaker’s unjust predicament.

In line four, the speaker introduces “Him,” or the captor, who can be seen in two ways: First, the captor is a male presence. The capitalization of “him” can denote the power that he holds over the speaker. This is apparent through the juxtaposition of the littleness of the bird to the capitalized, seemingly powerful “Him.” Second, in Judeo-Christian tradition, God is referred to as “Him,” “He,” or “His,” with a capitalized H. The speaker may mean to say that the will of God has placed her in this entrapped state. If God has willed it, then the caged bird, or entrapped woman, becomes something “natural” or expected.

The final lines of stanza one appear to show the speaker’s pleasure at her entrapment: “Well pleased a prisoner to be / Because, my God, it pleases Thee!” This statement, if taken at face value, portrays the speaker as “pleased” to be trapped, because it pleases the speaker’s conception of “God.” However, upon deeper examination, the sarcastic or mocking undertone can be sensed.

  • Line five is meant to point out the ridiculous nature of the speaker’s predicament, as no prisoner can be “pleased” by their lack of freedom. The impossible relationship between pleasure and imprisonment is ironically reflected in the rich consonance of the words “pleased” and “prisoner.”
  • In line six , the speaker may be using “my God,” as an exclamation as opposed to an apostrophe. The phrase can be read as a frustrated...

(The entire section is 1,107 words.)