by Nicole Helbig

I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals–
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting–
I know why he beats his wing!

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 Laurence Dunbar


Painting By

Nicole Helbig

7 thoughts on “Sympathy

  1. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says:

    Wow, sad.

    • It is, I wonder if it was his response to slavery?

    • The theme of the poem “Sympathy” is racism, and the imprisoning effect it has on the soul.

      In the poem, the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar compares himself to a caged bird. He can empathize with how the bird feels; just as the bird looks with longing at the beautiful world just beyond the bars that cage him in, so the poet, as a black man in America in the early 1900s, feels about his situation as a victim of a racism and discrimination in his society.

      The poet goes beyond the empathy he feels for the caged bird in the second stanza of the poem, when he develops his theme further, describing the helpless rage both he and the bird feel as they look out from behind the bars that confine them at opportunities and freedoms others can enjoy but which they are denied. Like the bird, he “beats (his) wings” ferociously against the cage’s cruel bars, but to no avail.

      Finally, in the last stanza, exhausted and in pain from his futile attempts to escape his prison, the poet identifies the song of the caged bird. It is not “a carol of joy or glee”, but a desperate prayer for deliverance, for the bird and for himself, that one day both “would be free”.

  2. [ Smiles ] A fabulous piece of literature.

  3. So emotional… understanding what it means to be caged is sad…

  4. Another wonderful poetry share Sindy… and LOVE that art..

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