Upward To Heaven He Flings

maya-angelou
Maya Angelou

“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.

The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

Maya Angelou – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Sympathy

by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872 – 1906)

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!


 

Does it surprise you as you read Paul Lawrence’s Dunbar poem Sympathy to realize that Maya Angelou’s brilliant memoir lifts its title from his poem?  Angelou as a human being, writer, poet, political activist and likely the person with the most amazing voice on the planet during her lifetime, consciously connected her story to Dunbar’s. I think all writers recognize that they can not separate completely their own creativity from the art that has inspired them throughout their lifetime.  I applaud it when rather than trying to hide that fact, they choose to do like Angelou did, and make the connection front and center, for their readers to delve further on their own, pointing us in the direction of greatness and letting us discover the very things that inspired them.

Dunbar grew up in Dayton, Ohio.  He was in the same high school class as Orville Wright, who would assist Dunbar in getting his first volume of poetry published. It’s nice to know that one half of the duo that made the first successful flight appreciated poetry. Dunbar’s career as a writer is an inspiration of not accepting the barriers that were in place that seemingly made it impossible.   He died young at the age of 33, after having critical and financial success and utter ruin and critical dismissal, often within a stretch of only a couple of years.   He died of a combination of repeated bouts of what is described as “poor health” but was a combination of pneumonia and alcoholism.

The poet and writer Nikki Giovanni, a Dunbar scholar, says in his biography in The Poetry Foundation that:

….his work constitutes both a history and a celebration of Black life. “There is no poet, black or nonblack, who measures his achievement,” she declared. “Even today. He wanted to be a writer and he wrote.”

Here is a short video of Angelou discussing with Oprah Winfrey her intentions behind her memoir and also a short poem by Angelou that is a reminder of what Audre Lorde said, paraphrasing, that revolution isn’t a one time event, rebellion  and pursuit of justice are every generation’s responsibility.


Caged Bird

by Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
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 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.

 

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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