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(1872-1906 / Ohio / United States)

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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!

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

Read poems about / on: river, sympathy, red, joy, heaven, pain, wind, sun, heart, spring

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Comments about this poem (A Drowsy Day by Paul Laurence Dunbar )

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  • Gideon Arthur (1/1/2014 1:17:00 PM)

    Reading this poem is like reading Maya's own in a revised format. Nice words and touching message. Maybe Maya took her inspiration from Dunbar.

    9 person liked.
    4 person did not like.
  • Tunji Ibrahim (9/26/2012 12:12:00 PM)

    'Sympathy'... Intense in point of view of life. Invariably, it is out of devastating experience that the poet gains insight. Without any shadow of doubt, here is a source that gives vitality to Maya's own creative control as manifest in 'I know Why The Caged Bird Sings'. Mr Paul has cause to smile in the grave every now and then.

  • Ray Quesada (9/25/2012 1:56:00 PM)

    11 out of 10. I actually like this poem more than Angelou's poem, although they both are brilliant.
    anyone intersted will really enjoy my poem, Response to Maya Angelou

  • Hebert Logerie Sr. (8/23/2012 10:47:00 PM)

    Brother Paul, this is a great poem. Maya, definitely, borrowed from you. Her famous poem I know why the caged bird sings is awfully similar to Dunbar's poem Sympathy. Dunbar gave that poem the wrong title.

  • Mrs. Glass (11/5/2009 11:01:00 AM)

    I feel the poet is describing the inability to acheive true freedom while living during segregation. After reading this, I am enlightened as to how the poet struggles during this time. The theme is conveyed in a metaphor that is also used by Maya Angelou. Modern day Americans, of all races, cultures, and ethnic backgrounds, can relate to feeling imprisioned as the narrator does in this poem.

  • Peter K Mullins (8/21/2007 10:58:00 AM)

    Having read the book 'I know why the caged bird sings' by Maya Angelou, I understand more of this so sad poem, and of the writer himself. Beautiful in every way.

  • Kimberly Kastner (5/6/2007 1:32:00 PM)

    I like this poem too. It's a very moving and beautiful poem even though I felt sorry for the poor bird the first time I read it. 10 out of 10.

  • Tyra Falconwing (1/24/2007 4:47:00 PM)

    One of my favorite poems, even though it's very sad. But it's still a beautiful poem.

  • Nathan Strange (12/9/2006 3:21:00 AM)

    this one of the greats

  • Kelly Allen Vinal (12/3/2004 6:16:00 AM)

    One of his very best. Served as the basis and inspiration for much of Maya Angelou's work, especially the poem, 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings'.

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