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!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem Sympathy


  1. Nellie Jenkins/ Foster says:

    I gradurated from Dunbar Senior High School in 1973. This was also the School Built after the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. I was 17 years old in the 11th grade. the Senior Class did a Play Based on this Poem. I remember like it was yesterday the girl wore dresses in this play like black women wore in the slavery days and the guys wore pants rolled up from the bottom and they performed on the auditorum like never before the poem was recited and they acted it out on stage. the word touched my inner soul like i was a fly on the wall of mr. Dunbars bedroom as his mother was saying the word to him. I have loved this poem from that day I first heard it until today. April 23rd I will be 56 years old. I love it now and until the end of my days this will be my favorite poem of all times

  2. Basil Foley says:

    To the best of my recollection, the end of the poem is not printed on this site. — To the best of my recollection.

  3. Rev. Basil A. Foley, Sr. says:

    My mother taught all six of her children this poem. At age 79 years and 357 days, I could quote 90% of it from memory. We are distributing it in our church, Wolridge Chapel A. M. E. Church, Houston, TX, in February as a part of our Black History Month celebration. Rev. Thelma T. Maxwell is our pastor.

  4. alexahinndmafhiedjkfjkjh says:

    poopie pants

  5. Janice Howard says:

    Dunbar had a classical education. He preferred to write in classic styles as he did when he wrote “Sympathy.” Nonetheless, white people in the USA preferred to read his poems in dialect, implying that “Black” poetry was better when written in the “Black” vernacular. Dunbar received little recognition for “Sympathy” but was admired by his white readers for composing dialect poems, which he despised, but which were what he could sell.

  6. jay says:

    I’m sorry but Dunbar was never a slave, his parents were slaves but he was born after the emancipation proclamation and also in ohio which is north (were african americans were free)…he knew about the slave situation because his parents suffered it.

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