I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Summary in English by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Summary in English and Hindi Pdf. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem is written by Maya Angelou.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Summary in English by Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Summary
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Summary

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem About the Poet

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) : Born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. Writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is known for her 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which made literary history as the first non-fiction bestseller by an African-American woman. She is a distinguished African-American author. She has been acknowledged as the champion of the cause of the suppressed black people and women. She has written essays, poems, plays and autobiographies.

The first of her autobiographies entitled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) which tells her life experiences of the first seven year of her life is the most noted of her works. Angelou received several honours throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (non-fiction) category, in 2005 and 2009.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings About the Poem

All about the Poem I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings:
The poem expresses the longing for freedom. The free bird is a metaphor for a white American and the caged bird for an African-American. The contrast between the two underlines the plight of the encaged bird and his desire for freedom and equality.

‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Angelou is one of her well-known and forceful poems that has universal appeal. In Angelou’s times, African-American people did not feel free as there were still many restrictions on them in society. The poem gives expression to the feelings of these black Americans, rather of all the oppressed people in the world. Obviously, it deals explicitly and implicitly with the problems related to race, gender, slavery and freedom.

It refers to two birds : one trapped in a cage, and the other free, swaying and flying with the wind. The encaged bird stands for a black American and the free bird for a white person. The poem makes it clear that the encaged bird or an enslaved individual may be physically restricted or restrained but cannot be stopped from singing and dreaming of freedom. A free bird flying with the wind has complete freedom and chance to fly again at will. No such freedom is available to an encaged bird. Its dreams are entombed, but it does not give up singing or dreaming of freedom. Thus, the poem gives the message that hope lies eternal.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Theme

I. Racism
Maya Angelou herself experienced the worst forms of racial discrimination in America. She felt that the black Americans were not as free as they ought to be. They were denied basic rights. There were a number of restrictions on them in the society. African-Americans longed for freedom and equality.

This longing for freedom is expressed in the poem ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’. The poet presents two birds : the free bird, a metaphor for a white American, and the caged bird for an African-American. The contrast between the two underlines the plight of the encaged bird and his longing for freedom and equality. Despite restrictions, he still sings of freedom :

his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

II. Yearning for Freedom and Equality
Another theme of this poem is yearning for freedom and equality. The poet rightly feels that freedom is the birth right of every individual. Whereas it is a natural state, captivity is an abnormal state. No one likes to be encaged. Even a bird does not. African-Americans voice their protest against all forms of oppressions and exploitations. They are unhappy in their narrow cage which takes the form of racism, gender inequality and powerlessness. The poet is hopeful that the voice of ‘the caged bird’ has begun to be heard faraway. It can no longer be suppressed :

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Summary in English

‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is a powerful and meaningful poem that has a universal appeal. The poem is both simple and complex. Its underlying concern for freedom is simple to understand, but its structure being metaphorical is a bit difficult to decode, unless you have a clear background of the circumstances in which African-Americans continue to live.

There are two birds compared and contrasted in the poem : the caged bird and the free bird. The caged bird is a metaphor for the black American, whereas the free bird stands for a white person. The bars of the cage which put restrictions on the encaged bird can be identified in human terms as racism, sexism and the powerlessness of their victims. This ‘imprisonment’ behind these bars is unnatural. It produces the response of the ‘song’ that takes such forms as struggle, self-affirmation or self¬expression for freedom. The freedom of the free bird is naturally envious in contrast.

The poem opens with an image of the free bird flying with the wind in the beautiful, orange sky in the evening. He continues to float in the wind over the stream and dips his wings downstream in the gentle-sunlight. He can claim the whole sky as his own.

On the other hand, the caged bird (a metaphor for an African-American or for any oppressed person) is in rage. His wings are clipped and his feet are tied. His condition is such that he can hardly move and have a glimpse of the beautiful sky. It reminds us of the image of the bird in Dunbar’s poem that strikes his beak against the bars in rage and is wounded, and still he does not stop singing. The bars or restrictions, which are mostly physical in nature, can never suppress mental flights for freedom. The song of the caged bird is heard far and wide.

The free bird who has total freedom can go on another flight with another wind and can have a satisfactory look on fat worms waiting for him to devour. He can claim the sky as his own. On the other hand, the encaged bird stands on the grave of dreams. This reveals the poet’s own dreams. Discrimination and racism formed the bars of her cage, and she could not achieve all that her white counterparts were able to achieve.

Despite the fact that the encaged bird cannot even move freely in the narrow space of his cage, he cries out for freedom and equality. His song for freedom remains irrepressible.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Stanza Wise Explanation

Stanza 1
The opening stanza captures the natural beauty of the sunset. The free bird (suggestive of a white American) leaps on the back of the wind, that is, he flies and sways with the wind in the evening against the orange sky. He has the right to claim the sky. As he flies he dips his wings downstream.

Here the poet makes the reader participate in the delightful experience of freedom of the bird. When there is no restriction, every movement becomes blissful and joyous.

Stanza 2
This stanza brings in sharp contrast the condition of the encaged bird. His wings are clipped and his feet are tied. So he can hardly move in his narrow cage and see through his ‘bars of rage’. He is in anger but is helpless. He only opens his mouth to sing, but no one can stop him from doing so. Thus, while the free bird can enjoy the full sky, the encaged bird cannot have a glimpse of the sky.

In other words, a person who feels restricted as a result of any kind of discrimination, prejudice or powerlessness cannot enjoy the fruits of freedom and equality. He can only yearn for full freedom and struggle for it in different ways.

Stanza 3
The caged bird here is shown to be afraid of many unknown things. But this fear does not prevent him from giving expression to his dream of freedom. His voice is heard far and wide as he sings of freedom.
Here the poet makes it clear that the voice of the oppressed people, their longings and aspirations cannot be suppressed. No fear can stifle this voice; rather this voice is now heard in distant countries.

Stanza 4
This stanza takes us back to the free bird, making the difference between the two birds starkly clear. The free bird can think of another flight in another breeze, and can enjoy the ‘sighing’ of trees. He can find his own food. He can claim the full sky as his own. On the other hand, it is obvious that the encaged bird has no such freedom or right.

Stanza 5
There is again a shift to the encaged bird and his helplessness. The bird in the cage stands on the grave of his unfulfilled dreams. As his movements are restricted, he can only cry out like one who has had a nightmare. This is a frightening image. A person without freedom can only act abnormally, for the state of captivity is abnormal.

Stanza 6
This is the repetition of the Stanza 3. It emphasises again that though the encaged bird has never experienced freedom, he still sings of it. His song is heard now far and wide, and his longing for freedom and equality cannot be dismissed as a distant voice.

In other words, the poet feels that the voice of the black Americans cannot be suppressed. They are made for freedom, and despite all restrictions and suppressions they would not relent and continue to struggle for freedom which is their birth right.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Glossary

Stanza 1
free bird : suggestive of a white American
leaps : jumps
downstream : towards the mouth of the stream/river
current : flow of air, water
claim the sky : regard the full sky as his own, suggesting claim for full freedom

Stanza 2
stalks : follows
narrow cage : restricted place, where there is little freedom
seldom : hardly
bars : pieces of metal or wood that stop free movement; (here) discriminations and restrictions
rage : anger, wrath
clipped : cut short

Stanza 3
trill : shrill, quiver
longed : desired

Stanza 4
another breeze : another flight in another wind
fat worms : good food to be had at will

Stanza 5
grave of dreams : dreams that seem to be dead
nightmare : bad dream
screams : cries out in fear

Stanza 6
things unknown : strange things or incidents
on the distant hill : faraway, remote area

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Critical Appreciation

I. Title
The title of the poem ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is apt as it deals with the theme of the poem. The ‘caged bird’ is used as a metaphor for the black American or for the oppressed person. The poet reflects the miserable plight of those who are denied freedom and equality. The ‘caged bird’, unlike the ‘free bird’ (metaphor for a white American), can only sing and dream of freedom. His wings are clipped and feet are chained. How can he move ? The feelings of the encaged bird are vividly presented by the poet. Thus, the title of the poem is apt and suggestive.

II. Autobiographical Overtones
Maya Angelou, herself a black, faced all kinds of discriminations in the South and elsewhere during her life. The ‘cage’ in her poem is associated with racism, sexism, insecurity, poverty and abuse. These discriminatory forces continued to make her feel inferior. She could not achieve what her white counterparts could, with similar circumstances and opportunities. Like the ‘encaged bird’ she was angry. She could do little, like the encaged bird in his narrow cell, but she voiced her resentment and longed for freedom. In the poem, singing is all her bird can do. The poet hoped that the voice of the oppressed would be heard faraway, as it can never be suppressed. We are reminded of these lines from Dunbar’s poem ‘Sympathy’.

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars

III. Universal Appeal
It is important to read Angelou’s poem in the broader context. Even though the context of the poem relates to the state of the black Americans in the wake of stark racial discrimination practised by the whites, the metaphor of the ‘caged bird’ is applicable to all those who are denied equal rights and opportunities to grow. A person belonging to the backward stratum of life or a woman or a labourer feels as much restricted and oppressed as the ‘caged bird’. His struggle takes many forms. Sometimes it becomes violent. Sadly, the ‘free bird’ has his own sphere to operate, and has no time or inclination to help the ‘encaged bird’.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Poem Style and Literary Devices

Form and Structure
The poem does not follow any set-scheme of form or structure. The line lengths vary according to the rhythm required, and each segment of the poem has different number of lines. Stanza 3 has been repeated for the sake of emphasis.

Literary Devices

The rhyme scheme used in the poem is irregular, haphazard and faulty. At the most it is sporadic. Only lines 9 and 11 in the first two stanzas employ rhyming words – ‘cage’ and ‘rage’. In the fourth stanza again there are two rhyming words – ‘breeze’ and ‘trees’. Other rhyming words used in the poem are ‘trill’, ‘still’ and ‘hill’, as also ‘heard’ and ‘bird’.

The two obvious metaphors used in the poem are for the two birds. The caged bird is the metaphor for an African-American, while the free bird is the metaphor for a white American. The contrast between the states of these birds reveals the unpleasant plight of the caged bird, and is used to make the reader aware of the tragic story of the oppressed.

The poet has used some objects of nature as symbols. The sun, the wind and the hills stand for freedom, power and glory respectively. Only the ‘free’ bird can enjoy these things, which are purposely denied to the ‘caged’ bird.

There are many beautiful images which convey the idea of freedom and repression beautifully. In the first stanza, the flight of the free bird in the evening sky is a beautiful visual image, as is the image of the caged bird with his ‘clipped’ wings and ‘tied’ feet in the second stanza.

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