The caged bird sings of freedom

the book: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

published 1969

From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond

[The extract is not from the named book but refers to, and partly explains, its title. It is from the poem Caged Bird, published in Maya Angelou’s 1983 collection Shaker, Why Don’t You 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.

observations: Maya Angelou died yesterday (May 28 2014) a few weeks after her 86th birthday. She has been an influence and an inspiration for generations, not because she was African American and a woman, but alongside those things. And in many ways, of course, in spite of the disadvantages those things presented to her.

Angelou wrote numerous poems and songs, cookbooks and children’s books, films and plays. She seems to have pretty much been good at everything: she made a couple of albums as a singer, including this one:

- and she even once ran a dance company with the legendary Alvin Ailey. But she is best known for her seven volumes of autobiography, of which the first - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – is the most famous. 
The poem Caged Bird had not, as far as I can tell, been published prior to its appearance 14 years after that book.

The main pic is of the ballerina Tatiana Riabouchinska, backstage in costume for the title role of Le Coq D’Or in 1937. The costume was designed by Natalia Gontcharova, who surprisingly enough is no stranger to this blog.

For more from the guest blogger, click on his name below.


  1. Moira - Thanks as ever for hosting Colm.

    Colm - I couldn't agree more about Maya Angelou. Her writing was of top quality, her poetry was excellent, and one thing I loved about her was her work with young people. She did much to get them interested in books and reading. She will be sorely missed.

    1. Safe to say you'll be familiar with a lot more of her work than I am, Margot. In fact I was rather startled to discover yesterday just how much of her work there is left for me to get familiar with.

  2. She's someone I am vaguely aware of and not someone I'm really inclined to find out more about TBH. 86 iisn't a bad innings.

  3. Thank you for posting this about the late, great Maya Angelou. Her life was so hard in parts and the bigotry she faced was enormous. But she persevered, and became a wonderful writer, poet, philosopher, activist and so much more. She was loved and respected throughout the U.S. and the world.

    Whenever she was on TV, she just transcended the discussions and gave so much of herself and to others. She was an inspiration to millions of people -- in the African American community and women.

    Her poetry was amazing. The great and principled leader, Nelson Mandela, read her poem "And Still I Rise" as his presidential inauguration. That is quite a poem.

    She also wrote "A Phenomenal Woman," which was quite a boost to women everywhere.

    We have lost a treasure. Hopefully, her words and deeds will live on everywhere.

  4. I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I don't know exactly when but I remember it was an eye opener for me, so it may have been within a few years of publication. I admired her a lot, but I did not know that she was talented in so many different areas. Thanks for this post.

  5. Kathy and Tracy, thanks for your eloquent additions.

  6. A wonderful book by a very talented writer.


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