Maya Angelou

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An acclaimed American poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer, Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri. Angelou had a broad career as a singer, dancer, actress, composer, and Hollywood’s first female black director, but became most famous as a writer, editor, essayist, playwright, and poet. As a civil rights activist, Angelou worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. She was also an educator and served as the Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. By 1975, wrote Carol E. Neubauer in Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, Angelou was recognized “as a spokesperson for… all people who are committed to raising the moral standards of living in the United States.” She served on two presidential committees, for Gerald Ford in 1975 and for Jimmy Carter in 1977. In 2000, Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the U.S., by President Barack Obama. Angelou was awarded over 50 honorary degrees before her death. Source

Caged Bird

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.

Published:

1969

Length:

Regular

Literary Movements:

Black Arts Movement

Anthology Years:

2022

Themes:

Doubt & Fear

Faith & Hope

Racial Injustice

Literary Devices:

Anaphora

a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences

Extended Metaphor

a metaphor that extends through several lines or even an entire poem

Juxtaposition

the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect

Metaphor

a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic

Personification

the attribution of human qualities to a non-human thing

Rhyme

correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words, especially when these are used at the ends of lines of poetry