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Write about three poems on freedom: On Liberty and Slavery (George Moses Horton), Sympathy (Paul Laurence Dunbar) and Caged Bird (Maya Angelou).

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Introduction

Poetry Essay I have chosen to write about three poems on freedom: On Liberty and Slavery (George Moses Horton), Sympathy (Paul Laurence Dunbar) and Caged Bird (Maya Angelou). The full text of the poems is attached. I chose these three poems because the subject matter appealed to me and I believe that the poems convey their meaning very effectively. Upon researching the poems, I discovered that Caged Bird was in fact inspired by Sympathy, which accounts for the similarities in language and imagery, as outlined below. All three poems deal with the subject of freedom using the imagery of birds; On Liberty and Slavery is narrated as a human plea for freedom, and makes reference to birds in that context, whereas Caged Bird and Sympathy both use the imagery of caged birds to explore the theme of loss of freedom. The symbolism of birds is used to depict freedom, as birds are essentially without constraints; in comparison to the limitations of humans, they have limitless possibilities. When a bird is caged, however, it loses that potential and is restricted not by its own limitations, but the limits set by another. This image is explored within the poems to depict the theme of slavery. On Liberty and Slavery On Liberty and Slavery is an example of a metaphysical poem; it deals with the concept of freedom using direct, personal language and contemporary allusions. ...read more.

Middle

The final verse ties together the image of freedom with the birds, using the image of fleeing from the storm into the boughs of a tree as a metaphor for the dream of liberty as an escape from the harsh reality. The singing of songs by slaves was also a well-known method of escaping the reality of their situation and this has been compared to the singing of caged birds. Which leads into the exploration of Sympathy and Caged Bird. I will explore these poems together, as their themes and language are very similar. Sympathy / Caged Bird Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in 1872, in Dayton Ohio. His father was an escaped slave, who left the family whilst Dunbar was still very young. He went to school with the Wright brothers and gained some repute as the only black student in Central High School (he was also class poet, editor of the school newspaper and president of its literary club). Dunbar found it difficult to obtain lawful employment, and survived in menial work, until the Wright brothers were able to help him publish his first book of poems, Oak and Ivy, together with Dayton's first African-American newsletter, the Dayton Tattler. These were both largely ignored by a nation still enveloped in the trauma of post-slavery adaptation. He was discovered in 1893 at the World Fair, by Frederick Douglass (a leading figure in the abolitionist movement, who also fought for women's rights) ...read more.

Conclusion

breeze', 'winds soft through the sighing trees', 'dawn-bright lawn' are contrasted with 'stands on the grave of dreams', 'shadow shouts on a nightmare scream', giving a mental image of the torment of the caged bird. The repetition of the 'wings are clipped and his feet are tied' serves to remind the reader of the never-ending misery of the bird, the sameness of his life. Finally, the repetition of the 3rd stanza in ending the poem gives the poem a circular feel (as with the repetition of lines in Sympathy); it is also the only stanza to rhyme, using an ABCBDBDE rhyming technique. The language used in this stanza is plaintive (also reminiscent of the last verse of Sympathy), picturing the bird as longing for freedom with all its mysteries, and singing as a distress signal rather than an expression of joy. This also reflects the singing of slaves, who sang songs of freedom although some had been born into slavery and had no idea what their homeland even looked like. All 3 poems are carefully constructed, using specific language to evoke specific images. The contrasting language and imagery effectively illustrate the unhappiness suffered by captives, whether they are humans (as in On Liberty and Slavery) or birds (as with Sympathy and Caged Bird). They appealed to me because they are beautifully structured, with the contrast of language and images developing throughout each poem, to leave the reader feeling the misery and anguish of the captive. ...read more.

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