I know why caged birds sing?

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Maya Angelou is an inspiring writer and poet.  What drove her to express herself in language was the hurt feelings coming from childhood, for which she tried hard to find answers.

So one evening reading her favourite angelou_at_clinton_inaugurationAmerican poet Paul Dunbar’s “Sympathy” she penned a simple poem herself. It was received well so she went on to describe her life in an autobiography (published in 1969) under the same title. This book earned many accolades and was well read by her fans. A decade later a TV series was made under the same title.

Why do caged birds sing? is a good reflection for parents on providing protection for their children. Children are vulnerable and can often fall victims to men (and women) who prey on the innocent. It is often someone close to the family who takes advantage of their innocence. So it cannot be hard for grown ups to be more cautious.

Maya laments over her experience at the age of 11 years when her mother’s boyfriend cuddles and rapes her in their home. Although she speaks up and brings him to courts he is later murdered by Maya’s uncles who were enraged about the incident. The little girl to whom things were not explained in simple terms, is confused and she immediately blames herself for his death. This elaborates the uncomplexed thinking in little children.

It is only 5 years later that a kind neighbour by the name of Mrs Flowers, encourages her to read her poetry aloud. The love for literature prompts her (caged bird) to break through and emerge braving her guilty feelings. Then she is able to accept the truth – that she is not in any manner responsible for the ill-fated death.

Why do caged birds sing?
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
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 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.

Maya Angelou taught American studies at the Wake Forest University in North Carolina. She has won the Pulitzer prize and National Book Award nomination.

She died on 28 May 2014.

 

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