We all know why the caged bird sings

“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” my recording of iconic poet Maya Angelou reading that famous poem was on a Buckshot LaFonque album. For those who don’t know what that is (and I am betting most) that was Branford Marsalis’ 90s hip-hop experiment. But it was the poem that stood out for me and made the recording special. And it was the first thing I thought of when Angelou died earlier this year.

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and 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.

There was something empowering about the poem. It’s about a little bird that is locked inside a cage, he is bruised and sore. How is identifying with the bird empowering? That was always the sense that I got from the poem, and from hearing Angelou read it.

Mirroring the bird song within the poem, the poem itself is a song, not a happy song, not a loud song, but a song that is aimed upward. And like the birdsong, the poem has an upward drifting through which we can connect.

What is it about the poem that makes me want to look up into the panorama of stars that surrounds us? The caged bird has been through tough times. Its life is marked by a series of trials documented by bruises.

There are billions of people on this overcrowded planet and yet we connect most readily through our loneliness. That is how the poem is able to tug on our heart strings.

We are social animals and while feelings of loneliness and isolation scare us on a deep level, a poem like this simultaneously reminds us that we are not alone. Even while in a cage we make songs because there’s still hope that they will be heard. This is how identifying with the bird in the poem is empowering.

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