Tales of walking, eating, watching and playing. Vintage treasures and simple pleasures ... the things that make her happy.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

“Like most children, I thought if I could face the worst danger voluntarily,
and triumph, I would forever have power over it.”
I first read Maya Angelou’s autobiographical books in my early teens.  As a young girl, from a small town in rural south west England, I had been sheltered and oblivious to all that her books revealed.  The books were unavailable in my home town so I bought each one in a ‘modern’ bookshop in Bath.  I devoured them.  Maya’s writings left me shocked, confused and saddened, but also uplifted and proud.  I didn’t always understand what I was reading but her story stayed with me and as I grew older I understood more.
“There was an army of adults, whose motives and movements I just couldn’t understand
 and who made no effort to understand mine.”
Maya’s first book, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, was written in 1969.  It begins when, aged 3, Maya is sent with her older brother to live with their grandmother in Arkansas, and ends when she becomes a mother at the age of 17.  
“See, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing.
If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking.”
It is a coming of age story, a story of racism and suffering, but also a story of courage and dignity.  The graphic description of the trauma inflicted on this young black girl meant that it was banned in some schools and libraries. 
"If growing up is painful for the southern black girl,
being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.
It is an unnessecary insult."
The title ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ comes from the poem ‘Sympathy’ by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, an Afro-American poet.
“One more woman ambushed and raped.  A black boy whipped and maimed … a white woman slapping her maid for being forgetful.”

Angelou also wrote a ‘Caged Bird’ poem …

The free bird leaps
On the back of the wind
And floats downstream
Till the current ends
And dips his wings
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 fearful trill
Of the things unknown
But longed for still
And his tune is heard
On the distant hill
for the caged 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.
They don’t really hate us.  They don’t know us.  How can they hate us?  They mostly scared.” 
Maya Angelou (Source)
 “Can’t do is like don’t care.  Neither of them have a home.” 

All quotes are from the books of Maya Angelou.

May all humankind fly free, uninhibited by cages.

Birdcage will be coming to Sherborne Antiques Fair - Saturday 22nd September

For Michael.


nilly said...

Lovely poignant post & lovely birdcage too.
Stay kind & don't become cynical!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Marina:
'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings' is a book, which for the very reasons which you outline here, deserves to be read by all young people and should, we feel, be part of any English Literature course taught within schools in the years prior to, if not for, GCSE.

Rosemary said...

A wonderful poignant post.
I remember so well Maya Angelou's rendering of her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's Inauguration. She is a wonderful women, full of compassion, forgiveness and warmth.

demie said...

This is such a wonderful post Marina!
I found Maya Angelou accidentaly through a quote of hers somewhere ) I looked and found her in the internet (Intriqued at first by her words as well as her greek lastname) What an extraordinary woman she is! What a life she has lived!

Thank you for reminding me I should read her books!

KC'sCourt! said...

I've read her first book, and like you I was quite young too. Maya Angelou is a most interesting woman.
I agree with Jane & Lance Hattatt says it should be read in English Literature.
Julie xxxxxxxx

YeamieWaffles said...

This has made me really want to read these books now Jane, it just sounds so poignant and interesting and all of the quotes are uplifting which really helps too. I mean I've never heard of Maya before but already she seems like an incredible, inspirational soul who has had to overcome so much, thanks for telling us about her.

the cuby poet said...

I have just found your post. I read this book last year for the first time last year and although it has been on my to do list for years had only just got around t it. It was powerful writing and she showed an ability with a great use of vocabulary. What a delightful blog. Do pop over to my blog sometime.

The Dainty Dolls House said...

Love that book, she's a remarkable writer and woman!! x

Vintage Sheet Addict said...

I read lots of Maya Angelou books in the 80s, great to read some of her quotes again! Ada :)

Jen said...

A beautiful tribute to a great writer, and a unique way of looking at (and having us look at) an antique object.

Vix said...

I've still got my set of Women's Press 1980s paperbacks. I'll never forget reading them for the first time, profoundly powerful and made me appreciate living in a multicultural town all the more. x

Madelief said...

Hi Jane,

The book is new to me, but it sounds very interesting! Another title to write down in my diary :-)

Have a lovely evening,

Madelief x

Flaming Nora said...


YONKS said...

The poem is so beautiful, and so sad. I have caged birds in the past, I am so sorry now. There should not be a market. The poem can apply to do many areas of life, so poignant! A beautiful post. She is Americas equivalent of our Laureat, amazing woman.

Melanie said...

May all humankind fly free... Yes, yes!! I have never liked seeing birds in cages or any creatures in cages for that matter.

Greenorchid said...

Yes I've always loved Maya Angelou... I read this book when it came out and it changed my life... I plucked up the courage to tell my best friend of the abuse I had suffered and went on to help set up a survivors group in london.
On so many levels this is an inspiring book it be great to see it read in schools.
It is funny I have seen 2 vintage bird cages in the past week, never since any before... but couldn't bring myself to buy one.
Thank you for posting...

Kristie Franklin said...


I read this book many years ago too and was so saddened by it and the poem. Reading your post has brought those memories back to me with and a few tears as well.

Have you ever read The Book Of Ruth by Jane Hamilton? This book was on Oprah's Book list. It was the most excruciating book I have ever read. Such a sad book!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend Marina. :)

Maria said...

How Hauntingly beautiful is that poem!
I haven,t read 'Maya Angelou's books am afraid, but thats what I soo love about blogging, the amazing info, you can pick up and be inspired to read! A great post as always....
Have a happy one!
Love Maria x

ted and bunny said...

I only popped over to say thanks for your comment, and I'm in tears with this post (dripping into my morning cuppa!)

Why haven't I followed our blog before- SO sorry; ammended now.

Greenorchid's comment made me smile as I had 2 vintage birdcages for sale at HW yesterday.

I hope all is well with you, and thankyou for sharing such a poignant book.
I have family in South Carolina and we go to stay, and travel extensively in the deep South (wonderful for buying 50s hats and bags) and, while so much healing has taken place over the years, the scars that happened were still in our lifetime- our living memory, and I've found places where I know my presence was not quite welcome.
I realise the dedication for Michael came much from the heart, and hope that too is healing.

Catch up soon, have a good week

Kelly-Marie said...

Such a wonderful post Marina! I have never read anything by her before and am ashamed to say that until now I hadn't even heard of her. I am definitely going to change this. That poem is so beautiful and poignant. I love bird cages as objects but love birds far too much to ever cage them.
I hope yours went to a good home. xx

Veshoevius said...

Beautiful post and beautifully illustrated with the pictures. Thank you for introducing me to the writings of this woman.

♥ Priddy Priddy ♥ said...

I found her books when I lonely and feeling a bit sorry for myself...Her words were the kick up the backside I needed, I drank her books in & still keep them in the loft.
Lovely post {{}}