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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

CAGED BIRD, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Caged Bird" is a poem written by Maya Angelou and was published in her book "Shaker, Why Don't You Sing?" in 1983. The poem reflects the struggles of African Americans and their longing for freedom during the civil rights movement.


The poem is written from the perspective of a caged bird that is yearning for freedom. The bird is used as a metaphor for the African American community that has been oppressed and denied their basic rights. The poem starts with the image of the bird sitting on a perch with clipped wings, unable to fly or express its true self. The bird is described as singing with a "fearful trill" and its voice is contrasted with that of the free bird that "dares to claim the sky".

The poem goes on to describe the experiences of the caged bird, who is forced to live in fear and darkness. The bird's wings are clipped, and it is confined to a small space, unable to spread its wings and fly. The caged bird is also forced to sing a song of oppression, and its voice is compared to that of a "grave of dreams". The free bird, on the other hand, is able to soar and sing a song of freedom.

The poem also touches on the theme of hope, as the caged bird continues to sing, despite its oppression. The bird's song is described as being heard on distant hills, and the hope for freedom is expressed in the last stanza with the repetition of the phrase "the caged bird sings".

Poetic Elements:

Form: Free verse

Theme: Oppression, Freedom, Hope

Imagery: The image of the caged bird, the contrast between the free bird and the caged bird, and the image of distant hills.

Tone: The tone of the poem is melancholic and reflective, expressing the struggles and pain of oppression while also expressing hope.

Sound: The poem employs repetition and alliteration to create a musical effect.

Language: The language is simple and direct, allowing the imagery and metaphor to carry the weight of the poem.

Figurative language: The poem uses metaphor to compare the caged bird to the African American community and the free bird to the privileged class.

Structure: The poem is divided into three stanzas, with the repetition of the phrase "the caged bird sings" at the end of each stanza.

Symbolism: The caged bird is a symbol of oppression and the struggle for freedom.

Emotion: The poem elicits a range of emotions from the reader, including sadness, empathy, and hope.

Poem Snippet:

"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."


Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird" is a powerful and poignant poem that highlights the struggles of the African American community during the civil rights movement. Through the use of vivid imagery and metaphor, the poem captures the pain of oppression, the longing for freedom, and the hope for a better future. The poem's simple yet powerful language and structure make it accessible and moving for readers of all ages and backgrounds.

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