I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (and Paul Laurence Dunbar)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A volume of memoirs (1970) by the African-American writer, singer, and actress Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Angelou borrowed her title—a metaphor for the African-American experience—from the US writer Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906):

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,

When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore—

When he beats his bars and he would be free;

It is not a carol of joy or glee,

But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,

But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—

I know why the caged bird sings!

Paul Lawrence Dunbar: ‘Sympathy,’ in The Complete Poems (1895)

Dunbar may have been inspired by an earlier line:

When caged birds sing, when indeed they cry.

John Webster: The White Devil (1612), V.iv

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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