What is the relationship between the poem "Caged bird" and the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? One seems to be an autobiography and the other a poem, but they have overlapping titles and I'm unclear which was written first or whether the poem inspired the book or whether the poem is in the book or what other possible relationship.


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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was the first volume of Maya Angelou's autobigography, which eventually grew to seven volumes. Published in 1969, the title is taken from the third stanza of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, Sympathy:

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!

According to an interview quoted in Heart of a woman, mind of a writer, and soul of a poet : a critical analysis of the writings of Maya Angelou by Lyman B. Hagen, Angelou confirmed the origin of the title, explaining "I think it was a bit of naivete or braggadoccio. . . to say I know why the caged bird sings! I was copying a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem so it’s all right." The caged bird is clearly a metaphor for the lack of freedom, suffered by both caged creatures and slaves.

Angelou's poem The Caged Bird was published fourteen years later in 1983, in her poetry collection Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing? The poem again deals with themes of repression and confinement, and so Angelou again returned to the metaphor of the caged bird, describing the struggle of African-Americans for freedom. Beyond this reuse of the metaphor, however,there appears to be no other link between the two works.

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