Day 148: Read and Reflect on Caged Bird Poem


Maya Angelou left her earthly body behind today, at the age of 86. She also left behind a great body of work including seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry and a list of plays, movies and television shows spanning 50 years. Her story, of starting at the bottom of the heap, as she described her early life, and learning to thrive, has inspired so many.

Today, listening to the news of her death, I heard part of her famous poem, “Caged Bird” and was moved to tears. I realized, first of all, that although I’ve heard snippets of the poem, I’ve never read the whole thing. And secondly, I was impacted by the words that I heard because my symbol for this year of moving beyond is the uncaged bird. Not a caged bird. Not just a bird. But a bird that has escaped her cage and taken flight, soaring higher and higher, reveling in her freedom. For my first today, I read Dr. Angelou’s poem and reflected on it.

Here is the complete poem:

Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

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 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 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.

What a beautiful poem. It is hard for me to believe I’ve never read it before now, and yet, this was the perfect time, during my journey, to become aware of it. The uncaged bird has been a significant and powerful symbol for me. I know why the caged bird sings also. She longs for freedom, and yet, limited in her ability to fly, bound by fear, she remains caged. I realized several years ago, as I felt myself caged by limitations and fears, that I was the one who built my own cage, bar by bar. I was the one who placed myself within this small, cramped space and yet longed for something more. Fortunately for me, and for all of us, the door to that cage is unlocked. It only required a desire strong enough to test the door for me to gain my freedom. Finding my own voice, opening my throat to sing, was the beginning of my exhilarating flight.

I love the poem’s imagery of the bird daring to claim the sky and naming the sky as his own. The expansiveness of the sky is unlimited, open, full of the breezes of opportunity and abundance. I, too, love being there, soaring, stretching, becoming all that I am meant to be. It takes courage from within to step out into the unknown and leave a cage that feels safe and familiar, no matter how confining. It’s scary to take that leap of faith that hurls you into the air, where you must fly or plummet. I have not regretted those steps or that leap. Nor would I return to my cage. I have grown too much. I would no longer fit within those constricting bars. For that, I am grateful.