In Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, Sympathy, He grasps the all-inclusive cry for freedom, the theme of African American literature since black poets first began writing poetry. Dunbar uses the greatest power that he has, his words. In this poem the speaker begins with a sentence that is direct and describes his feelings from the beginning, which is “I know what the caged bird feels, alas,” the word alas meaning and expression of grief or sadness the speaker is feeling for the caged bird. In this poem the speaker represents the black Americans of that time in the vivid description of the caged bird and its experiences. This poem expresses the birds longing to be free, and the longing of the black Americans to be free also. After describing the deep feelings the bird has, the speaker exclaims that he too knows why the caged bird sings, because he is theoretically a caged bird himself. The speaker in the poem metaphorically becomes the caged bird that beats his wings against bars that do not give.
However, the poem is much more than the tale of a caged bird longing to be free, it goes much deeper into history and the deep heart felt feelings of oppressed black Americans. This poem follows the abaabaa scheme, emphasizing a pattern within each stanza, where the first line is set up in a connection between the speaker and the caged bird. The poem features repetition, or near repetition, in the first and last lines of each stanza to further emphasize the degree to which the poet depicts the caged bird. As the poet goes deeper and further along in his poem, the story unfolds into a harsh contrast between the feelings of the caged bird and what black Americans faced in that time period.
“I know what the caged bird feels, alas!” (1), the first line shows the poet’s expression of sadness of knowing the grief the caged bird is going through. The speaker continues with,” When the sun is bright on the upland slopes/when the wind stirs soft through the spring grass/ And the river flows like a stream of glass”(2-4) here the speaker uses alliteration twice using the letters s and w, and the speaker also uses a simile to compare the river with glass. The purpose of the simile is to enhance the beauty of the river stream by comparing it to the clear, calm, reflectiveness of glass.
“When the first bird sings and the first bud opens, and the faint perfume from its chalice steals-“(5-6), in these lines the speaker describes nature around the caged bird in detail that suggests it is the most beautiful time of year, spring time. A metaphor is used in comparing the small bud with a chalice, meaning to compare the smell of the blooming flower to that of the cleanliness of a metal chalice. The speaker then ends the stanza with “I know what the caged bird feels” (7) to emphasize how alike they both are.
“I know why the caged bird beats his wing/ till his blood is red on the cruel bars”(8-9) The speaker is describing the physical battle that the bird is going through after...