Poetry Friday: May 30th., 2014 – Maya Angelou

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Poetry Friday is hosted by Diane Mayr @ Random Noodling

Reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings was a transformative experience.  I remember finishing the book and then starting to read it again almost at once.  It was vivid and raw and true, and I knew right then that I loved Maya Angelou and would always do so: on so many levels, she spoke my truth.  I believe the last time I saw a picture of her she was on the news, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom:


She looked frail, but proud. She looked, still, every inch the poet priestess I remembered…especially the one who stood at the lectern, erect and purposeful, to recite:

I read the New York Times story detailing her passing away, and then I watched this YouTube clip I have saved for our Angelou poetry unit of study.  And then, when my kids came in for lunch, we watched it again, together:

“Just pick up the battle and make it a better world, just where you are…yes, and it can be better and it must be better…but it’s up to us.” Just do right.  Now, more than ever, these words mean so much.

Thank you, Maya Angelou.

I Know Why The Cages 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
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.



12 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: May 30th., 2014 – Maya Angelou

  1. I read every installment of her memoirs. Once I saw her take the stage and the 92nd St Y. She danced, sang, talked to us, recite poetry and told stories. We were mesmerized for 2 hours without a break and we would have stayed every longer but she had to leave. I knew I’d never forget that moment.

  2. It’s a lovely post, Tara. Bonnie is lucky to have seen her in person, but isn’t it lucky for us that we grew up knowing of her and reading her words? I’ve taught her book to some of my oldest students and know it was meaningful to them. Thank you!

  3. When i heard the news of her passing it was sad. The first time I encountered her (it was on TV) and her work i remember being overwhelmed by the power and wisdom, as well as the heart that understood humanity. The poem you shared, while i’ve read it before, reading it again moves me like i read it for the first time.

  4. Yesterday I listed to a recording of Maya Angelou on the Diane Rehm show, and listening to the two of them telling each other “I love you” was so moving that it brought tears to my eyes. Sigh. Thanks for this.

  5. Reading I Know Why the Caged BIrd Sings was also transformative for me. I promptly read all her other books and have been inspired by her ever since. Thanks for this beautiful tribute. I hadn’t seen the second video. So powerful.

  6. Thank you. Maya Angelou has been on my mind and in my heart a lot these couple days. I’m glad to see the whole of “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” poem here. And I love that second video. What a gift she was, sharing what she’d learned.

  7. I feel the same way I did when Maxine Kumin died — I mourn that there will be no more of her words or her wisdom. But it’s a bigger sadness in some ways because she lived a bigger, more public life. Thank you for this post and for the videos. I am starting my day with tears, but also with the resolve to do better and be better.

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