Maya Angelou I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (1969) Phenomenal Woman (1978)
Biography • Marguerite Ann Johnson is Maya Angelou’s real name, Maya being a nickname given to her by her brother, and Johnson being a family name. Maya Angelou was born April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She has had a massively successful career. Known as a renaissance woman, and as one of the greatest poets of all time, Maya Angelou has had a massively successful career. She’s a poet, writer, dancer, composer, playwright, and an actress. As an African American woman, she has also experienced racial prejudice and discrimination firsthand, and used her experiences to write more meaningful poetry. • As a teen, Angelou got a scholarship to San Francisco’s Labor School where she studied Dance and Drama. Shortly after graduation she gave birth to her son, Guy, whom she raised as a single mother. (She was also the first female African-American cable car conductor). Her Career started up in the 1950’s where she toured Europe in the production of the opera, Porgy and Bess and recorded her first album. She later moved to New York and joined the Harlem Writers Guild, and performed in and wrote other productions. • Angelou spent most of the 1960’s traveling abroad working as an editor and a freelance writer. She moved to Egypt, then Ghana where she got a job at the University of Ghana. After returning to the United States, in the 1970’s she wrote her first memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which made her internationally known. She has written a total of 6 volumes of her autobiography, and continued to write and do groundbreaking things, such as reading an original poem at President Clinton’s 1993 Inauguration. • Maya Angelou has been nominated for and received many awards. She was nominated for an Emmy award a Tony award, and a Pulitzer Prize. She was awarded the Lincoln metal, and the Presidential Metal of the Arts. She has also received 3 Grammy awards.
Background • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was written in 1969 by Maya Angelou. It is an autobiography about the early years and lives of African-Americans. It is about the brilliance in each character’s strength, glory, love, and the overcoming of African-American racism and post-trauma received from the slave masters. Maya changes from an inferior racism victim from her owner into a dignified woman against prejudice and their minorities. Within the story, it informs you of African American women during the years of the Civil Rights Movement, where women and others strived for equality and justice in their community and nation. It explains the hardships of Maya being a mother by the age of seventeen, criticism for racism nationwide, family is all we have in the end, and independence. Her autobiography explores cases of victims of identity, rape, sexuality, and of course, racism in a male dominant society. • “Phenomenal Women” was written in 1978 by Maya Angelou, but wasn’t officially published until 1994. It is a poem written about feminism, which is still a stirring controversy in our society today as well. It informs you of the personality of a typical feminist fighting and advocating for her social, political, legal, and economic rights to be equal to men’s. It explains why a woman should love herself, even if she doesn’t consider herself to be beautiful. The use of language, tone, and mood displays that the speaker was abused. Maya Angelou was raped and went through sexually and physical abuse as a child. She stayed silent for five years, but after that, she learned that words evoke power. Her pride, hope, talent, confidence, and inspiration rose from the torture and neglect she experienced all throughout the beginning stages of her life.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings 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 bird sings of freedom The free bird thinks of another breeze an 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.
“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” Analysis • The poem "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou is a poem that does not follow guidelines of which most poems are written along such as a rhyme scheme or meter. Instead, this poem is phenomenal due to the fact that even though it lacks meter and a rhyme scheme, it has a powerful impact on the reader. With the use of alliteration, rhyme, and assonance, Maya Angelou is able to instill vivid emotions and images within the reader's mind. • Many traditional poems follow a strict rule of rhyme and meter, but "Caged Bird" by Maya Angelou expresses feelings with more freedom while still using other devices like alliteration, rhyme, and assonance. Alliteration is a literary device that repeats consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Maya Angelou uses alliteration in lines like "But a birds that stalks/down his narrow cage/can seldom see through/his bars of rage…and the fat worms waiting on the dawn-bright lawn." The first sign of alliteration is seen when Maya Angelou uses the "s" sound when she writes "...seldom...see", creating a feeling of excitement because it was so unexpected and another sign is the use of the "w" sound to describe the worms. The concept of rhyme is rather simple, it just requires words that are spaced apart to sound the same at the end and rhyme and while a solid scheme is absent, it is still used and helps to create rhythm. "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" In this example, the words "trill," "still," and "hill" rhyme while "bird" and "heard" do, too. Lastly, assonance is preformed with the repetition of the vowel sounds of non-rhyming words. We see assonance used in the poem with a line like the following: "But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams." Hearing the repeated "a" sound, makes the reader think more on the meaning of the line, because of the way it is laid out. This is a hard technique to use correctly, but Maya Angelou was very clever and used assonance extremely well (Pedone). As we can see, the careful manipulation of words and literary devices that Maya Angelou uses in this poem give the poem its unique form.
Explanation • The poem I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings can be interpreted clearly as a struggle between the bird and its longing for freedom outside of its cage. The poem weighs the freedom between a free bird and a bird behind bars or trapped in a cage. The bird that is trapped sings for its freedom despite that “his wings are clipped and his feet are tied”. This poem can be taken as an allegory for the struggle between an oppressor (symbolized by the cage/bars) and the freedom of the bird (the oppressed) and their will to still speak (sing) of freedom they dream of.
Significance • Although I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was written towards a certain subject (namely Maya’s own experience as an African American woman), the poem can be applied to essentially any situation between the oppressor and oppressed. Because of the openness of the poem on the surface and how general the topic of oppression is, the specific interpretation of the poem can be applied to many places. Oppression, despite seeming like a thing of the past, is very much part of today’s society, even if we don’t like to think that. This is why, even today, I Kknow Why The Caged Bird Sings is still taught and read; the poem is still relevant to current issues and carries across a message broad yet powerful enough to stand the test of time.
Phenomenal Woman Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size But when I start to tell them, They think I'm telling lies. I say, It's in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me. I walk into a room Just as cool as you please, And to a man, The fellows stand or Fall down on their knees. Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees. I say, It's the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me. Men themselves have wondered What they see in me. They try so much But they can't touch My inner mystery. When I try to show them, They say they still can't see. I say, It's in the arch of my back, The sun of my smile, The ride of my breasts, The grace of my style. I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me. Now you understand Just why my head's not bowed. I don't shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing, It ought to make you proud. I say, It's in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, The need for my care. 'Cause I'm a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me.
“Phenomenal Woman” Analysis • "Phenomenal Woman" is a poem that relates to Maya's life and she carefully chooses words to construct four stanzas full of empowerment. These five stanzas are also very abundant in the devices used to portray the emotions that Maya is making a endeavor to communicate. This poem uses devices such as imagery, metaphors, repetition, rhyme, assonance, consonance, alliteration and sibilance. • Although there is no set meter, the use of other devices create a sound in the poem that gives the feeling that it should be sung. This is because the devices of imagery, metaphors, repetition, rhyme, assonance, consonance, alliteration and sibilance exist in harmony. Imagery is found throughout the poem and are based on the poet's actions and gestures, such as "the curl of my smile" and "the reach of my arms." We can see the use of metaphors when she compares her smile to the sun and her passion to fire. Her usage of repetition is obvious in this poem because at the end of many stanzas, she repeats the idea that she is a phenomenal woman. "I'm a woman,/ Phenomenally./ Phenomenal woman/ That's me." Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds and there is a pattern of the sounds of "e" and "o" that add a sense of power to the poem. Consonance is similar to assonance, but it repeats the sounds of consonants and when she says things "real loud" in the poem, the "l" sound is emphasized, establishing and reinforcing her voice in the poem. Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of a group of words. The use of words that start with 'f' in the second stanza links them all together. The whole purpose is to show how fellows react to her: 'fall', 'fire', and 'flash'. This 'f' echoes the 'f' sound written as 'ph' in 'phenomenal' ("Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou ).Lastly, sibilance is the repetition of "s" sounds and in this poem, is used to establish the gentle spirit of the poet, as she uses it in lines like "Sun of my smile,/ The ride of my breasts,/ The grace of my style." The variety of devices that were used in this poem helped to create rhythm and establish the feeling of uniqueness and empowerment.
Explanation • Phenomenal Woman deals with mostly confidence as a woman. The woman in the poem is shown as loving herself, despite how society views women and how she differs from the typical standard of beauty. The poem depicts men and women being drawn to her (out of desire or wonder) and her confidence or love for herself. The poem uses short lines and rhyme to create a pungent point and get it clearly across; that despite what others think she is still as phenomenal as those who match the typical beauty of the times. The poem is derived from Angelou’s own experience as a child and adult, her own description of herself as a “phenomenal woman” (Megna-Wallace 188),and reflects every woman’s desire to achieve inner beauty and strength for herself, not just for other people.
Significance • Surprisingly, women today still deal with confidence. The poem Phenomenal Woman shows this, as the woman wrote about clearly has great belief in herself, which is a wonderful achievement. Society has, for the longest time, placed women as inferior, and so certain unrealistic standards have arisen. Beauty has been defined very narrowly and often anything deviating from the societal expectation of a woman is deemed as ugly or undesirable. This leads to things such as slut shaming, the exaggerated importance of certain beauty products, and so on. The poem Phenomenal Woman deals with a woman who has overcome this and learned to love herself even though she is not the current definition of beauty, and because of this, others love her as well. Since most of us here are overly hormonal teenagers who can’t seem to control themselves maturely and are often very emotional towards small parts of life such a beauty or romance, Phenomenal Woman caters towards the concept that a woman should love herself and others should love her for that, as opposed to them loving her for being a certain body type or hair color.
Comparison • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and “Phenomenal Women” by Maya Angelou both represent similar ideas and the norms of society during the period of Maya’s life. It depicts the daily hardship in African Americans’ lives, mainly focusing on women. It is about how slaves and African Americans dealt with racism constantly, wherever they went. Women, especially, strived for the right of equality and the opposition of criticism, which broadens into a wider concept, now known as feminism. It explained how Maya found hope in a world dominated by free, white slave owners. They both inform about the difficulties women struggled through and how they should not give up even if they are knocked down.
QWER. Why is it that my knees bleed when I walk They shatter and wane and I am left to march on stumps below the people around me Even though when I was young the teachers who patted me on the head and told me I was a good little girl taught me That everyone was who theywere and nothing different That everyone should be loved for who they are and nothing else That everyone had rights in their own right to be themselves Why is it that when I look up all I see are faces telling me what I can and cannot be And when I look down encouraging smiles play up to my feet and whisper to me to do what I want I am treated like a child in a place where I am expected to be an adult, yet I cannot even make choices for myself without being scrutinized and poked at Like an animal in a cage where the circus that loved him crumbled I roar at the passerby who dare to come close and touch my chest and marvel at the shaved fur Because I am not who they expected to see My face screams lamb but my body yells lion and they don’t know what to believe So I tell them that I am a mixed breed But they shun me for it The people shake their heads at me and tell me it can’t be so I am impossible I am a glitch in their systems, and I need to be corrected like how an editor crosses out a typo in red pen I am right or wrong and nothing else I am choking to death in a room full of air So I hide in my rusty corner and wait till they leave, So I can cry in peace and puke Where they cannot see And it hurts when they don’t do what I ask after the 500th day And it hurts when I explain that I am not like everyone else they have ever met And it hurts when the other animals tell them that I am a freak and I am okay with thatAnd it hurts when they leave because they couldn’t understand Why the lamb wanted to be a lion
Haiku Poem Why so serious? Poems can be funny too; I’d hope this one is. Haikus are short things. Well, that’s why I made these 6. Do I get an A? I hope that I did; This is harder than it looks; It’s quite difficult. Are you laughing yet? You should be. It’s a known fact; People should laugh more. You’re probably not. I just realized how weird This “poem” sounded. Well, this was fun but, I think this is the ending. Awesome ending right?
My Two Lives My hands write words upon words Like the rest of my body, working involuntarily It's like a machine preprogrammed to get things done But my mind wanders, as the machine stays stationary There I am, climbing a mountain In my black and golden armor I lay down on a cliff of a mountain far greater than Everest But I'm still not done, I need to become stronger I sit on the peak where the air is thin and take an invigorating breath And await the arrival of the sun I'm on a mission to save the world and I'm not afraid And this mission has already begun I rub my eyes and recognize I'm in class I'm back in reality Where nothing great ever happens What a boring place to be I look down at my page and see notes When did I write this?! Then the bell rings and I panic "Wait, what did I miss?!" Time slows down greatly in another class Tick... Tock... Tick... Tock I start to doodle, to keep me here But get scolded by a teacher with the eyes of a hawk I walk through the hallways full of thousands of people I recognize not one face Because what's left of me on Earth? Not a trace How do I look like in this universe of mine? I have wings-- one black and one white for darkness and light As fit, strong, and flexible as one can get Because I have given myself the gift of flight I blink again to see I'm back People around me are concerned They wonder where I went to in the first place Why I say that I've returned The universe I've created calls me again Promising another adventure And now I'm torn into a half life But both parts of me yearn to venture So I stand here today explaining Who, what, where, and why I act like I act with an absent mind Being two places at once is hard, but I try So I ride dragons and fight demons While I'm writing an essay or two And soaring through the sky, through the clouds While taking a test, too So I will write what I can write And I will walk where I have to walk But to protect my universe from any others My absent mind's presence won't allow me to talk
He & She He fell to his knees, begging her for forgiveness, When nothing he had ever done, had ever been for wrong, She rises to claim his heart, The room was dark, but he could see the death in her eyes. His strong, callused hands were still not strong enough to embrace her, His knees were far too weak as he fell, kneeling for a plead, There was never a moment when he couldn’t stand up straight. Her smile said pity, while her eyes said pathetic. There’s a side no one’s seen, Her lullaby became nothing, but lies. He’d always let her win in chess, But now, her queen has taken his knight. She sat behind the fireplace, eyes blazing with something he couldn’t recall, Under her trance, the fires waltzed, only for her. Her lips never moved, but he heard her screams throughout the house, His name scratched in the wall and inked with the red of her blood. He’d never felt this much danger around her, He knew nothing of the word safety. He sat, listening to the soft tunes of her violin, Now he heard nothing, but the echoes of her threats. He threw her voice into the flames, Now he saw nothing, but the loss of sanity in her eyes. It was a mistake opening the door, Now he lied cold on the floor. She goes on about, the same lady everyone’s ever known, Her mind so clever, but yet, so fragile, Her reflection is nothing of what she is, If only her victims could see her now. He felt cold lips press to his hand, A dying goodbye is better than none. Dear, love, this was your heart and you let it rule your head, When you point to the pictures, please tell them his name.
Works Cited Megna-Wallace, Joanne. “Understanding I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents” The Journal of Negro History 86.2 (2001): 188-189. Print. Angelou, Maya. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1969. Print. Angelou, Maya. Gather Together In My Name. New York: Random House, 1974. Print. Angelou, Maya. All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. New York: Random House, 1987. Print. Shapiro, Miles. Maya Angelou: Author. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994. Print. Angelou, Maya. The Heart Of A Woman. New York: Random House, 1981. Print. Cecil, Kelly H. "Maya Angelou." The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, n.d. Web. 01 June 2013. majategr1. "Phenomenal Women Analysis." Edublogs. Edublogs. 19 Mar. 2009. Web. 01 June 2013. Terry, James S. "Angelou, Maya: Phenomenal Women." Literature, Arts, and Medicine Databases. New York University, 8 June 2010. 01 June 2013. Web. "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." PoemHunter.Com. 3 Jan. 2003. Web. 5 Jun. 2013 Pedone, Oriana. Thetford Academy's Technology Resource Page. Thetford Academy. n.d. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. "Phenomenal Woman." Poetry Foundation. Random House Inc. n.d. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. "Phenomenal Woman Maya Angelou ." Skoool. Intel. n.d. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. “Maya Angelou". The Biography Channel Website. A+E Television Networks, LLC, 3 Jun. 2013. Web. 5 Jun. 2013.