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By Maya Angelou

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.


Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird” from Shaker, Why Don't You Sing? Copyright © 1983 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)

  • Nature
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Poet Bio

Maya Angelou
Writer and activist Maya Angelou had a broad and successful career as a streetcar conductor, a dancer, editor, teacher, storyteller, and actress. Born Marguerite Johnson in 1928, she gained fame with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her 1970 autobiography which speaks courageously of her encounters with racism. One of the best-known writers in America, Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993. She was the first black woman to have a screenplay (Georgia, Georgia) produced in 1972, and she received an Emmy nomination for her performance in Roots in 1977. Angelou wrote the poetry for the 1993 film Poetic Justice, and went on to appear in that film and others, including There Are No Children Here and How to Make an American Quilt. She died in 2014 at the age of 86. See More By This Poet

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