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.