Ah, the sad expression in the eyes
of that caged bird--
envying the butterfly!
-- Basho (1644-1694 --
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!
-- Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906)
From 17th century Japan and in late 19th and early 20th century US, we find two poems, different in form, but very similar in spirit. And, one must also keep in mind that the first part of Maya Angelou's autobiography is titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In addition, I found the following quotation while reading Frederick Douglass' autobiography, which tells of his life as a slave and after he gained his freedom. I have often wondered whether it was the inspiration for Lawrence Dunbar's poem "Sympathy."
― Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1815-1895)