Angelou, Maya: 1928 - 2014

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970 - Information about the Book

  • "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" was challenged by the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983. It was considered "dangerous" because it "preaches bitterness and hatred against whites."
  • The book takes its title from the following poem by the American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 - 1906):
    • "Sympathy"

      I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
      When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
      When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
      And the river flows like a stream of glass;
      When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
      And the faint perfume from its chalice steals--
      I know what the caged bird feels!

      I know why the caged bird beats his wing
      Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
      For he must fly back to his perch and cling
      When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
      And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
      And they pulse again with a keener sting--
      I know why he beats his wing!

      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!

  • Compare Dunbar's poem with Maya Angelou's poem:
    • "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings"

      A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
      and floats downstream till the current ends
      and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

      But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
      can seldom see through his bars of rage
      his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

      The caged bird sings with a 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.

      The free bird thinks of another breeze
      and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
      and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

      But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
      his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
      his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

      The caged bird sings with a 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.

  • Author Maya Angelou reads the last stanza of her poem "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" (high, low mov)