Unseen Poetry Practice Question: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Thursday 19th May 2016

Unseen Poetry Practice Question: ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’

In the poem, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, Mary Angelou presents ideas about freedom in a number of ways. The poem is largely based on the segregation between various races, specifically the barriers between blacks and whites. It uses this theme to explore freedom, and expresses it as an extended metaphor.

In the first stanza, the speaker illustrates how the free bird, or white race, is untroubled: “the free bird leaps on the back of the wind”. The word ‘leaps’ is an energetic word, showing how the life of this bird is untroubled. Unlike the caged bird, it has never known captivity and is free to live its life in the way that it wants. The first stanza also shows how the free bird has the audacity to try and own whatever he wants unjustly: “dares to claim the sky”. The free bird abuses its freedom, showing how whites demonstrated discrimination and prejudice toward blacks. The word ‘dares’ suggests that it has no real right to do this, however it has become accepted just as racism became accepted in society.
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In the second stanza, the speaker describes the actions of the caged bird. The speaker says: “but a caged bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage”. This is an illustration of the anger and frustration the captive bird is forced to endure. Just like black people, it is mistreated and thought of as inferior. It shows the bird’s anger towards its captivity, however it is locked behind ‘bars’ showing how it can do nothing about it. A pattern of rhyme is also established to give this stanza an upbeat rhythm ...

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