Metaphor Poems: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

Although the term metaphor poem doesn’t really exist, I use it because I have my own website and I can make terms up. When I use the term metaphor poem, I refer to poems that are metaphors and not just a poem that contains metaphors.

The poem we’re looking at today is Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

Before we study one of the most famous metaphor poems, let’s take a look at what it means to master metaphors. And let’s take a look at how studying poems with metaphors can help you improve your ability to communicate.

If you’re looking for a quick lesson on how to do a poetry analysis, here you go.

Master Metaphors

Make sure that what you learn is valuable beyond the walls of the classroom. As you study examples of metaphors poetry, focus on the lasting benefits of becoming a metaphor master. Use the following guidelines.

  1. You should know what a metaphor is if you are studying examples of metaphors in poetry. Simply knowing the definition, however, is not sufficient.
  2. You should be able to identify examples of metaphors in poetry on your own.
  3. You should be able to explain the purpose for the metaphor and analyze how it contributes to the theme of the poem. I have provided analysis with my examples to show you what I mean.
  4. You should be able to write poems containing a metaphor.
  5. You should be able to use metaphors in your own writing to communicate more clearly.
  6. Once you are able to own metaphors and use them to promote your ideas clearly, you will have become a metaphor master. Let’s begin by analyzing the following poem.

Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

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.


Metaphor: The entire poem is a metaphor, with the caged bird representing those who have not freedom. Let’s take a look at the second and third stanzas:

“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.”

Analysis: A caged bird is unable to enjoy the freedom of other birds due to its cage, clipped wings, and tied feet. African-Americans during Angelou’s time were restricted by unfair laws and societal oppression. Freedom is symbolized by the caged bird’s beautiful song. As long as the bird is in the cage, he will not reach his true potential. Although the context of the poem is important, one shouldn’t limit its application to one group of people or one period.

A caged bird could be any group of oppressed people. It could mean individuals. The cage could represent society, physical barriers, fear, addiction or any self-defeating behavior, with the bird’s song representing the true self that longs for something greater in life.

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