Sympathy – Paul Laurence Dunbar
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Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African-American poet of the late 19th and early 20th century and he born as a son of slaves who endure slavery, segregation and racism. So this poem is considered to be an extended metaphor where through out the whole poem Dunbar gives the reader a comparison between the life of a caged bird and the African Americans in history. Dunbar uses vivid language, repetition, and symbolism to relay his comparison throughout the poem. Ironically, the life of a caged bird is indeed the life of the African American. An African American and himself, like the caged bird, that does not have the freedom to enjoy the nature and does not have the freedom to fly like all other birds meaning African Americans were considered property for white people at that time.
This poem is made up of three stanzas with each one consisting of a rhyming pattern, which gives reader a beautiful musical sense. The first stanza begins with a bird peek out its cage seeing the attractive landscape and the sun shining bright. “I know what the caged bird feels”, illustrates the comparison of a caged bird to an African American and shows how he identifies with the subject. The rest of the first stanza, Dunbar creates a visual imagery by import various elements of nature into his poem, such as the bright sun, the shimmering river, the gentle breeze. These symbols of freedom increase the bird’s desire to be free just as the river which flows without restraint. “The first bird sings”, creates another auditory imagery to build up the caged bird’s desire to be free. Birds singing announce that spring has arrived, birds are outside, and free to fly wherever they choose. “Faint perfume” an olfactory imagery gives a further stimulating its urge to be free.
The second stanza mentions the bird clanging his wings against the bars until he bleeds. “I Know why the caged bird beats his wing”, further identifying himself with the subject. According to the poet’s background, he knows why the blacks struggle of slavery. “Blood red on the cruel bar”, a visual imagery makes reader easy to imagine the bird beating its wings until they bleed. Its beating bars many times before inflict more pain on “old, old scars. Caged bird wants to get out and so does the author. Dunbar personifies bird as African American who understands how fighting slavery would injure themselves but that would not stop them from trying to be free once again. “For the must fly back to his perch and cling W
hen he fain would be on the bow aswing”, the bird would rather be dead than locked up in his cage. At the end of the second stanza, author repeats “I know why” to express the intensity of his feeling.