by Paul Laurence Dunbar
interpreted by Kyle Russell
know what the caged bird feels, alas!
the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
the river flows like a stream of glass;
the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
the faint perfume from its chalice steals--
know what the caged bird feels!
know why the caged bird beats his wing
its blood is red on the cruel bars;
he must fly back to his perch and cling
he fain would be on the bough a-swinging;
a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
they pulse again with a keener sting--
know why he beats his wing!
know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,--
he beats his bars and he would be free;
is not a carol of joy or glee,
a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings--
know why the caged bird sings!
Poet: Paul Laurence Dunbar was a great African-American
poet, who rose to acclaim from a family of freed slaves. Dunbar's parents,
Joshua and Matilda Dunbar, were freed slaves from the state of Kentucky.
Paul Laurence Dunbar was born on June 27, 1872 in Dayton, Ohio. Dunbar
had a knack for poetry from an early age, even having several of his poems
published in one of the local papers called the Dayton Herald. However,
Dunbar did not receive national attention until a collection of his poems
received a "thumbs up" review, from the well-known critic, William
Dean Howells, in the Harpers Weekly. Dunbar created many works later in
his life, but unfortunately to his poor health, Paul Laurence Dunbar died
at the age of thirty-three.
Type of poem: Narrative, he is just expressing himself.
Speaker: The speaker is the poet, Paul Laurence
Audience: Whoever reads it; he does not seem to direct it anywhere.
Tone: Somewhat excited at discovering why the caged bird sings,
but never gleeful, for it is not a happy thing that causes the caged bird
Meaning: Due to Dunbar's background, and living in a time that
was not racially tolerant for the most part, the caged bird is singing
for freedom. Also, since Dunbar's parents were freed slaves, he drew upon
their stories to create this poem. The caged bird sings what is deep within
it, it sings of the longing it has to be free. This poem tells the consecutive
feelings of the bird. At first, the poet sympathizes with the bird, and
says, "I know what the caged bird feels, alas!" The caged bird
can see the world around it. Dunbar talks of how beautiful the surrounding
world is, and how the smell of freedom in a way lingers around the caged
bird. Second, Dunbar talks of how the caged bird reacts to the inability
to be free. The torment of being enslaved, and caged up away from the
world is so unbearable to the bird that he beats his wings on the bars
until they bleed. The pain only gets worse as time goes on, "and
a pain still throbs in the old, old scars / and they pulse again with
a keener sting," Finally, in the last stanza, Dunbar tells at last
why the caged bird sings. Instead of singing, the bird is praying, it
is exhausting its last hope, and that is to have some. All the caged bird
can do is pray, "But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings,".
Structure of poem: The poem consists of three
stanzas, each with 7 lines, and a rhyme scheme pattern of ABAABCC. Dunbar
isolates the first line of every stanza by indenting the same. He does
this to show the separate progression of the caged bird's emotions.
Examples of poetic techniques used in the poem:
the river flows like a stream of glass"
the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,"
rhymes the last 2 lines of every stanza to emphasize the meaning.
Connection between the poem and the poet's life and/or
times: Paul Laurence Dunbar came from two freed slaves. His
parents at one time were slaves. And as he was growing up, the world was
not as racially tolerant as it is today. Dunbar probably always felt a
sense of being trapped, and having only limited freedom. That is how he
was able to write this poem with so much feeling. He had the stories of
his parents, and the experiences he had growing up to draw on.
Most memorable quote from the poem: "But a plea, that
upward to Heaven he flings,"
© Smelli Notes 2001