A poem written by an African American poet during the 19th century in a figurative style describes the agony and wrath experienced by the poet himself. Although, the poet draws a parallel with that of a bird trapped in a cage, it is intelligible he is trying to express something intense compared to the angst of a caged bird. Every stanza of the poem is a revelation of the type of struggle or pain the bird is put through and mentions that he knows what the bird is going through.
In the opening stanza, the poet begins by writing that he is aware of the feelings of caged bird (first line). The poet discusses about the bright sun, the whirling wind and the flowing river, events which we can feel but which a caged bird is devoid of enjoying. The bird is only a mute testimony of these scenic wonders from a distance but he is devoid of enjoying them being locked in a cage. Deep within him, this is the type of feeling the poet experienced when he was subjected to slavery or recovering from the same. He attempts to reveal before us that how an incarcerated person cannot experience what is fundamental and natural things about life. This caged bird just appears to peer and envy other birds that are flying freely at a distance, but he is unable to reach what they are enjoying for instance the beautiful fragrance in the air and the gradual opening of the buds (the fifth and the sixth line). (Dunbar 184).
In the writer in the second stanza begins by stating that he is aware why the bird in the cage flaps his wings on the bars of the cage until it starts bleeding. This is a depiction the struggle the bird experiences in his pursuit of freeing himself. History speaks that African Americans were kept as slaves for long years and even after attaining freedom, there was no end to other problems like racism amongst others. The writer in his narration endeavors to portray that he is on the pursuit of liberating himself from these captivities and particularly racism. The bird is struggling to liberate itself as it yearns to return to his perch and the writer applies this figurative speech to reveal that even he is also desirous of returning to his perch where he belongs to. This is his home where he can be all by himself and control his self in a manner he wishes without at anybody's dictates and without being demeaned. As the stanza flows, it tells us that the bird had some old scars (fifth line) conveying that it had tried to escape to freedom many times earlier. The poet endeavors to convey that he similarly tried to free himself a lot of times before that might be during the peak of slavery system and presently racism.
In the third stanza, the poet tells us the reason behind the singing of the bird. The bird's song is one of appeal and agony and not a song of joy. It prays that God might free him from the cage and imprisonment so that he is able to enjoy like other birds outside. The bird songs are abound with pain from the wounds and the scars which he has conceded from the struggle he has experienced to free itself. This is similarly what the poet always does. He always prays before God such that he can be liberated from any type of discrimination or such any other type of repression which it would be experiencing.
This is a metaphoric poem. The bird represents the writer while the cage represents the type of struggles the writer has been trapped into and he is trying to liberate himself from the same. The expression "Sympathy" is a metaphor what the writer is passing through. The type of circumstances he is undergoing is sympathetic, however he is not appealing for our sympathy but our realization and the privilege to be a liberated human being like other people.
When he states that he realizes what a caged bird undergoes, it appears as discovery before the reader. This poem can be related with a lot of situations currently. While caging a bird we never care for its life as we feel it is a mere bird and not ourselves in that cage. However, the moment we land in such a cage ourselves, then only we can realize that how it harms the bird as might to us. This is the reason behind the poet saying that he is aware how a caged bird feels like.
The poet was trying to show the readers that they must not do what they would never want others to do to them. The agony of a caged bird gives a feeling of being jailed. This could have been a message to the oppressors trying to show them that the pain they were imposing on the Africans is the same pain that they would feel if they were in their position.
As it often seems, there are several themes which is revealed in this poem which is the theme of oppression and that is amply observed. This theme is presented by the reality that the bird is imprisoned instead of being able to enjoy freedom with other birds or in its nest (stated in every stanza). It is even observed by the manner in which the bird struggles to liberate itself and there is no mention that a person is attempting to set it free. The writer is undergoing the same situation.
The theme of freedom is explicit in the poem. We find that in the second stanza the bird flaps its wings against the bars of the cage in an effort to free itself. The existing wounds represents that he has attempted this a lot of times before. The bird is attempting to liberate itself. Coming to the third stanza, the bird starts singing as a mark of praying before the God so that he helps himself to become free. These are all hints a necessity of freedom from all the dominations and the struggle the bird is enduring. Similarly these oppressions are also being endured by the poet as he pens this poem.
Also, the theme of religion is presented when we observe the bird singing and sending a prayer before heaven-the abode of God such that He may liberate him from the cage. The poet does the same thing in an attempt to free himself from the confinement of the struggles he is currently enduring. The belief in God makes people to march ahead and be able to expect for a better future. He believed that he would pray before God and He would answer his prayers.
This poem has three stanzas. It depicts the lives African American endured in their daily lives. This is a depiction of endurance of the slaves especially in the USA. Slaves were subjected through a demeaning and painful type of life; hence it was never easy for them to openly say about their inner feelings. This is reason why the poet narrates us being the audience that they wear masks. Masks veils one from looking at the real thing. In majority of the situation, one can just see a hazy appearance of the real thing. A mask is used for hiding. In this instant case, the poet applies this figurative speech to explain that they didn't depict their genuine feelings or emotions.
In the first stanza, the writer narrates that they wear masks behind which they smile and speak lies hiding away their cheeks and eyes (first and second lines). This reveals that they desired to veil their eyes and the checks bloated with tears and many day of sobbing. Proceeding further, it is seen that they continued to smile although they were excruciating with pain and bleeding (fourth line). This reveals that they did not have the motive of allowing the world to be aware of the type of pain they were experiencing as they felt that other people did not have the faintest idea of what it felt like being a slave.
However in the second stanza, the poet feels that there is hardly any need for the rest of the world to know that they were enduring. He felt that it was enough that they just see their cheerful faces without getting to understand the precise type of pain and the emotion which they were experiencing. The poet thought that the rest of the world would do precious little to help them and this is the reason why he feels that the world would just get to see the slaves with veils of emotions and feelings.
The poet, in the third stanza begins by stating that they smile although they are engulfed with cries. They are crying before the Christ. He goes on to clarify that they are singing with pain and not joy. This particular stanza depicts the type of emotions which these people conceal to convey the rest of the world a completely different state of affairs. The poet does not see any urgency of allowing the world to be aware of the type of feelings these people are enduring. He wishes that the world visualizes a different representation than the real things that is occurring in their lives.
This entire poem is depicting a deluge of pretense. According to the poet, people smile when their hearts are tattered and bleeding (fourth line of first stanza) while they sing although they writhe in pain. When one veils their genuine feelings or their true selves, they are categorized as hypocrites. The poet does not wish the rest of the world to be aware precisely what the people he is writing about are enduring as it might reveal a symbol of weakness or he senses that the people will fail to understand what they are passing through.
Slaves had respect for them and hence the poet felt that it was better for the world to visualize them in a different perspective altogether. A person can never experience how he feels until they visualize their position or they experience their state of affairs. Due to this, this group never saw the requirement to appear sad and be emotional before people who did not have the idea what a slave felt like.
Besides, these groups of people never were desirous of sympathy. When an individual appears sad or shows emotional behavior, they draw sympathy of others. These groups of people never wanted this sympathy. They wished to appear as if they were strong from inside so that others do not demean them any further. They were desirous of making themselves strong instead of looking for sympathy from the rest of the world.
The premise of religion is presented in this poem. In the first and second lines of the third stanza, we observe the people crying out to God although they have smiles in their faces. Slaves drew plenty of faith and strength from God who they mostly believed in. They had a feeling that He would answer their prayers while they prayed before him which kept them moving and capable of undertaking their daily grind. An individual's spirituality was capable of making him strong as they always had someone to look up to. (Jarrett, Dunbar and Lewis 137)
This poem can be related with the present day lives. A lot of people helplessly veil their true feelings so that the rest of the world is unaware what is happening in their individual lives. Several people move around in a beaming mood, although deep inside them they might be in pain. On the other hand there are a lot others who express a lot of love to one another, while they really hate them in real life. There are a lot of people who never show their genuine feeling because of one reason or the other. Some people do not want others to be aware of what they are experiencing so that they do not express a faulty or bad impression of who they genuinely are.
We all tell lies at some point of time. We can lie orally or expressing wrong cues about ourselves as visualized in this poem. It is never appropriate to spell out the manner in which someone feels might lead somebody in availing help for a problem they are having. Invariably, it is good to be true as this help one to inch ahead more than they believed they could.
Dunbar, Laurence, The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, New York: BiblioBazaar, 2009.
Dunbar, Laurence., Gene, Jarrett and Lewis, Morgan, The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2005.