Treasure Trove A Collection of ICSE Poems Workbook Answers Chapter 7 Notes – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – ICSE Class 10, 9 English


ICSE SolutionsSelina ICSE SolutionsML Aggarwal Solutions

About the Poem

Caged Bird By Maya Angelou was first published in her book, “Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing?” in 1983. Inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy,” Angelou contrasts the struggles of a bird attempting to rise above the limitations of adverse surroundings with the flight of a bird that is free. She seeks to create in the mind of the reader empathetic sentiment towards the plight of the misused, captured creature—a symbol of downtrodden African Americans and their experiences. The poem is a metaphor illustrating the differences between African-Americans and Whites during the civil rights era. The author, a black who grew up in the South during this era, is expressing her feelings at the discrimination she faced during her life. Her first autobiography published in 1970 is titled, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”

About the Poet

Maya Angelou (Marguerite Ann Johnson) was bom in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4, 1928 to Bailey Johnson, a door attendant, a naval dietician, and Vivian Baxter Johnson, a nurse, a real estate agent and later a merchant marine. Angelou’s brother, Bailey Johnson Jr., gave her the nickname “Maya”. Maya Angelou is an American poet, memoirist, actress. Angelou is known for her series of six autobiographies starting with ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, which was nominated for a National Book Award and has been called her magnum opus. Her volume of poetry, ‘Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘Fore I Die’ was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Angelou recited her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993. She has been highly honored for her body of work, including being awarded over 30 honorary degrees.Angelou became involved in American presidential politics in 2008 by placing her public support behind Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party presidential nominee, despite her good friend Winfrey’s public support of Barack Obama. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography about the early years of author Maya Angelou’s life.

Maya Angelou’s racially centered poetry has a very powerful tone. Maya’s poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is about the repression of the African American race. As a young black woman growing up in the South, and later in war time San Francisco, Maya Angelou faced racism from whites and poor treatment from many men.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was written at the end of American Civil Rights movement. The poet was inspired by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader in the American civil rights movement. A Baptist minister, he became a civil rights activist early in his career. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Word Meanings

  1. caged bird – symbolizes the people from the black race who were discriminated by the white society which is symbolized by the free bird.
  2. cliped wings and tied feet – symbolize the disadvantage black people had because of their skin color.
  3. Breeze – symbolizes, the hope black people have that their situation will change someday.
  4. Downstream – symbolizes the common belief that the people with white skin are superior
  5. Free Mrd – white people
  6. Back of the wind – common thought that the white race is superior
  7. Bars of rage – anger black people felt
  8. Things unknown but longed for still – what would the world be like if blacks had the same rights as whites?
  9. caged bird singing – black people protesting


A free bird flies and enjoys flying with the wind. A caged bird does not have freedom and is imprisoned between the bars. He cannot fly, so he sings. The caged bird sings about freedom because he cannot fly. The free bird can do whatever he wants, he has food and feels like the sky belongs to him. The caged bird dreams but cannot have his dreams come true and just sings. The caged bird sings about freedom because he cannot fly.

The free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ends and dips his wings in the orange sun rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a caged 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 fearful trill of the things unknown but for which he still longs and yearns.

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 blow softly through the sighing trees and the fat worms wait on a dawn-bright lawn. The free bird names the sky his own. But the caged bird stands on the grave of his dreams. His shadow shouts a nightmare scream. His wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing as that is all he can do. The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but for which he still longs. And his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.


Maya Angelou’s highly romantic “Caged Bird” first appeared in the collection Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? in 1983.

The first two stanzas contrast two birds. Lines 1 through 7 describe the actions of a bird that is free; it interacts with nature and “dares to claim the sky.” The second stanza (lines 8 through 14) tells of a captured bird that must endure clipped wings, tied feet, and bars of rage; yet he still opens his throat and sings.

The third and fifth stanzas are identical. Lines 2, 4, and 6 and lines 5 and 7 of these identical stanzas rhyme. This repeated verse elaborates on the song of freedom trilled by the caged bird; though his heart is fearful and his longings unmet, the bird continues to sing of liberty. The fourth stanza continues the comparison of two birds, the caged and the free. The free bird enjoys the breeze, the trees, the winds, the lawn, the sky, and the fat worms; the caged bird with his wings still clipped and his feet still tied continues, nevertheless, to open his throat and sing. Like the refrain of a hymn, the fifth and final stanza is a reiteration.

Angelou’s characterization of a bird that is free (first and fourth stanzas) provides an effective contrast with the bird that is caged (second, third, fourth, and fifth stanzas). The sentiment that Angelou evokes in the reader is suggestive of Dunbar’s inspirational poem.

Critical Appreciation

The poem serves to provide a relevant piece of art that can withstand the test of time. It manages with ease to inspire a mass of people to better their lives by using the power of words, an honor prominent authors only dream about achieving. In today’s society many people struggle with the feeling of being under lock and key, unable to reach and are prevented from making any goals for themselves. The Poem ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ discusses this dilemma.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is arguably one of the most moving and eye opening poems ever written. It is clear that this title had great significance to Angelou, as it was the title of her entire life story. She often felt that her words were not heard because of the color of her skin. She felt that in some ways, she was still experiencing slavery. Although African American people were free people in Angelou’s time, there were still many restrictions on them in society, making it so that many black Americans did not feel free at all. This poem reveals the depth of those feelings. The poet uses the title, 1 Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to emphasize the importance of liberty. To a caged bird, liberty is very important. The only liberty he has while he is imprisoned, is to sing.

Maya Angelou uses dramatic metaphors and detailed imagery to compare and contrast the differences between a caged bird and a free bird. With these descriptions, inferences * can be drawn to produce the much deeper meaning behind the symbol of a trapped bird.

The words were actually first written by one of the first nationally acclaimed African American poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar, in his poem, “Sympathy.”

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;

A, clearly not-so-happy, bird is throwing itself against the bars of its cage. It struggles so much that it begins to bleed and needs to stop, but once its wounds are healed, it tries again. It’s persistent. And in the final stanza, it sings a prayer, wishing to be free.

Angeloushe calls her young self a caged bird. So what’s her cage? What keeps her from freedom? And what cages her are racism, sexism, insecurity, poverty, and abuse. But no matter how many times these forces push against her, she continues to fight back.

Angelou gives us some insight into what the caged bird means for her in the last stanza:
Treasure Trove A Collection of ICSE Poems Workbook Answers Chapter 7 Notes - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings 1

Angelou’s bird is angry. In the rest of the poem, we learn that not only is it caged, but its wings are clipped and its feet are tied so it can barely move. While the free bird gets to fly around looking at all the awesome things life has to offer—like fat worms— the caged bird stands on “the grave of dreams.” Angelou’s bird has never been free, but it still sings a song of freedom. Singing is all Angelou’s bird can do. At first, she doesn’t even know what freedom is, but she understands that her life is not the one she wants. So she does what she can, singing her song, and by the end she’s a little bit closer to freedom.

Maya Angelou’s touching poem revolves around the theme of freedom. The poem is about the heroic of the perfect and good leader to guide the minority black race from out of suffering and lead them to get the acknowledgement that is given to majority of the white people. The first lines of the poem discuss what a free bird does. Angelou writes, “The free bird leaps / on the back of the wind / and floats downstream / till the current ends / and dips his wings / in the orange sun rays / and dares to claim the sky” (1-7). With these words we get a real sense of sensory experiences from giving the wind a back, to making the rays of sun something that can be touched or dipped. This adds to the intensity and impact of the poem right from the start. Notable characteristics of the free bird can be seen here as well. It leaves no stone unturned and is not afraid to try new things. It has a sense of adventure that is unparalleled and has a fighting spirit. When the writer says that the free bird “dares to claim the sky” she is saying that the free bird doesn’t wait for anyone to tell it to do something. It does what it waits and this defines its freedom.

The free bird is brought up later on in the poem for a second time. This instance describes what the bird is thinking about. It has dreams and can imagine and freely think of other things beyond himself and his environment. The author writes, “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” (22-25). The ability of this bird to declare the sky as belonging to him shows confidence and self­assurance. This bird knows what it wants and not even the sky is the limit.

The caged bird on the other hand is very different from its free counterpart. The reader is introduced to the second bird quite dramatically. This serves to show the extant of how contrasting the two creatures are. Maya Angelou writes, “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” (8-14). The line that stands out the most is the fact that the birds’ wings are clipped. Wings give birds freedom to fly above the rest. It allows them to get from one point to the other. It is the ideological independence. Opening his throat to sing also gives a poignant image of pain and distress. Mostly the caged bird is suppressed. More is stated about the cries of the caged bird. It is a piercing sting of a song that spreads far and wide. Although the singing is full of pain, anger and fear, the bird sings of “things unknown.” The caged bird craves to learn about its surroundings. It dreams of a better life.

The issues of dreams and goals comes into question with the caged bird as well but in a different fashion. The author writes, “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” (26-29). These lines paint such a vivid image of dreams that cannot be fulfilled. A grave, for instance, is a symbol of death. A grave of dreams is rather grim. It shows an environment where dreams can’t be fulfilled. Instead of happy and positive dreams they are nightmares instead, nightmares that keep the caged bird grounded.

These two birds however serve to symbolize much more than what lies on the surface. As examined, the cage keeps the bird locked in unable to escape and enjoy the freedoms life has to offer. Maya Angelo grew up in a time and place where African Americans were segregated by law and were heavily discriminated against. These unfair laws are similar to the way the cage keeps the bird locked in. Also the caged bird sings and screams a dreaded tune. This was a way of rebellion and protest of the enslavement. A lot of African Americans at this time also used music as their means of defiance against unlawfulness. These songs although insignificant to outsiders served as a means of freedom.

The forms of ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ is described as a lyric, written in combine Quintets and Quatrains stanzas. As lyric form, it is a short poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings. It is meditative.Each stanza follows the rhyming scheme of AAAB. The flexibility of the first two lines in the stanza following a rhyming scheme  symbolizes the imprisonment of the bird. Each stanza follows the rhyming scheme of AAAB (thrill, hill, shrill, freedom). The rigidity of the first three lines in following a rhyming scheme signifies the captivity of the bird. However, the last phrase of each stanza breaks off from the rhyme with the last word being far from the original rhyme: “trill, still, hill, freedom.

One of the stanzas is repeated, which brings attention to the idea of the caged bird singing for freedom. Repeating different words or phrases creates structure within a poem, and it helps readers focus on a specific thought or emotion that the poet would like them to notice.
Treasure Trove A Collection of ICSE Poems Workbook Answers Chapter 7 Notes - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings 2

This poem uses a metaphor to compare caged birds to African Americans fighting for equality during the civil rights movement. Metaphors compare two objects or concepts without using the words “like” or “as.”
Treasure Trove A Collection of ICSE Poems Workbook Answers Chapter 7 Notes - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings 3

In addition to using metaphor, Angelou utilizes repetition to reinforce the idea that African Americans cried out for freedom from oppression even in the bleakest of times when their oppressors did not want to “hear” them. Angelou repeats the third and fifth (final) stanzas, with the caged bird singing for freedom:

The caged bird sings/with 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.

In the above quotation, the end rhyme in the second, fourth, and sixth lines with “trill,” “still,” and “hill.” We also find end rhyme as well as alliteration in the second stanza of the poem, when Angelou describes how the caged bird is physically confined. In the second stanza, the caged bird is in “his narrow cage” and “can seldom see through/his bars of rage” (“seldom see” forms the alliteration, while “cage” and “rage” form the end rhyme).

There is vivid imagery in the first stanza when the free bird “dips his wing/in the orange, sun rays” and personification and alliteration in the fourth stanza when the caged bird’s “shadow shouts on a nightmare scream.” The repetition of the consonant “s” and giving the caged bird’s shadow the human quality of shouting, emphasizes the bird’s nightmarish existence living in confinement.

The tone of this poem is reflective and critical because it compares the situation of the black people to the one of the white people. The poem transmits the ideas that this situation is unfair

Many have grown to use this poem to symbolize different obstacles in their lives. This poem can represent a wide range of things from society, physical barriers, fear,addiction or any negative behaviour. The free bird can then represent the longing and desire for a better way of life. A better life is a universal desire.

For More Resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *