Maya Angelou

Guess who?! For some reason, I was thinking of Maya Angelou and followed my inclination to her poem “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” Of course, I do know the reason – there’s a part of my mind that has rested on the uprisings in the States and all over the world and even Guelph yesterday – and stays there. Dr. Maya Angelou, PhD, as well with 50 honorary degrees, was raised in segregation. Even if you don’t do any further research, please read what I’ve copied here. She’s such an important writer to know about. As you read the Caged Bird, watch the unique way she used rhyme. And think about the two birds as metaphors and what colour each bird is. I hope this gem makes you want to know Angelou more fully.

“The plague of racism is insidious, entering our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.” Angelou, 2014

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun 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 fearful trill
of the 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.

This amazing metaphor for the anti-slave protests will probably remain as Dr Angelou’s most famous piece and lasting memorial. The title and inspiration for this poem came from a line in Paul Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” https://allpoetry.com/poem/8463189-Sympathy-by-Paul-Laurence– It was also the title of the first volume of Dr. Angelou’s autobiography published in 1969.

Maya Angelou, born April 4, 1928 as Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, was raised in segregated rural Arkansas. She was a poet, historian, author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director. She lectured throughout the US and abroad and was Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina since 1981. She published ten best selling books and numerous magazine articles earning her Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. At the request of President Clinton, she wrote and delivered a poem at his 1993 presidential inauguration. She died in 2014.

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