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

26 Comments

  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.

  7. C says:

    I think it is important to keep in mind that this poem was published in 1899, after the Civil War. I find that it is not so much about slavery itself, but the struggle since, especially in the Reconstruction Era and thereafter. While it’s novel to relate it to our everyday lives and so forth, the social context of the poem’s publication and its implications are far more important in this poem particularly.

  8. N. Seurey says:

    ‘Sympathy’ is a powerful echo of Fredrick Douglas’ experiences as an American slave. It depicts oppression and suffering those enslaved -both physically and psychologically- undergo in a symbolic and subtle way.

  9. Mike Gray says:

    This poem is symbolic of everyday life for enslaved african americans. They were the caged bird, desperatley trying to be free.

  10. starleana holmes says:

    Dunbar feels that the caged bird sings for not that he is happy, but that he is crying and awaiting to be saved from the torture he has endured for so long. But then my thoughts are, why be sympathetic. Why not instead rescue the caged bird from its depression and conflictions, why must one watch and stand by while the caged bird suffers and dies slowly from all the weight of its troubles. That is what Dunbar’s poem was for, he wrote it to ask us why have we stood by and watched as we as a people (African Amreican)have been the caged bird constantly beating its wings against the cage and crying out not singing for our freedom.

  11. mihir says:

    i really enjoy this poem because it shows the circle of life and suffering from everyday life. everyone can relates to this poem.

  12. MONISHA says:

    THE POEM SYMPATHY IS ONE EVIDENCE THA DUNBAR HAS EXPERIENCED THE PROTOTYPICAL STRUGGLR FOR FREEDOM AND SELF WORTH.THE POEM TILL AN EXTENT DOES DEPICT THE ENDLESS STRUGGLE OF THE BIRD BUT ALSO JUXTAPOSING IT ARE THE ZESTFUL SAVVY IMAGES OF CREATIVE ENERGY .

  13. kerin says:

    I love how he turned the desperation and oppression his people felt into this lovely metaphor of human suffering and the impact of society.

  14. Penny says:

    Dunbar does allude to slavery,racism and restrictions-all of which Maya Angelou encountered in her young life in Stamps, Arkansas. She chose the caged bird as the title of her autobiography; she, too felt the negativity Dunbar did but also saw the positiveness in the cage. Stamps was her cage, her cocoon into which she could crawl and be protected from the harshness of her world.

  15. abdalla says:

    this poem is about reality that everyone had and has and will have feeling about it. slavery and racism are all over the world ,but only afew of us stand up and sayor write something out loud agaist it. I respect everyone who looks for the freedom….keep your head up.

  16. Brion'ka Crockett says:

    i love that poem because most people can relate to what the peom vibe that it is giving off. and it touch me because i do feel like a caged bird at times.and people can relate to it in diferent ways.

  17. Bryan says:

    Paul Laurence Dunbar portrays the struggles of everyday man through the use of the caged bird. The cage symbolizes entrapement and represents society’s restrictions and boundaries. The bird’s endless struggle for freedom is restricted by the very bars of the cage. Yet the bird doesn’t ever give in. He continues to persevere and beat his wings against the cage in an effort to escape. Dunbar demonstrates man’s desire to be a part of a world which they are denied access to.

  18. Kari says:

    I like this poem because it has to do with every person. Everyone has felt like a caged bird at least one time in their lives.It feels good to know that I am not the only one who feels trapped sometimes.

  19. Zachary says:

    I believe that we all do know how a caged bird may feel
    because i know that there are times in which every one may feel as if they are that caged bird at some point in time so this alowes us to under stand why the caged bird sings

  20. heather prichard says:

    Sympathy is about slavery, racism, and societal restrictions placed on African Americans. Paul L. Dunbar uses symbollism to portray the emotions of a people restricted from a world they wish to be a part of.

  21. Kyle says:

    I can hear that matress squeak dont you hear me when i speak. This here clock dont struck off 6, caroline bring me dem a sticks. ah you down sir ah you down, look here dont you dare to frown. Take that comb and fix your head, looks just like a featherbed, look here boy i let you see you cant roll your eyes at me

  22. Anonymous says:

    Who wrote the poem;

    Abu ben adom, may his tribe increase. Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace. He saw within the moonlight of his room, an angel writing in a book of gold, exuding peace made Ben Adom bold. “What are you writing?’ ask Ben Adom. “The names of those whom love the lord”. Is mine one?” ask Ben Adom. “No”. Ben Adom spoke lower; “Then, I pray thee, write me as one whom love his fellow man!”
    The angel wrote, then vanished. The next night the angel appeared with a great awakening light. “What are thee writing?” ask Ben Adom.
    “The names of those whom the love of God had blessed”. Ben Adom name led all the rest.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I remember that poem from grade school. But, I haven’t seen or heard about it since:

    Liza, Liza Bless the Lord
    Liza, Liza, bless the lord, don’t you know the days are broad. If you don’t get up, you scamp, dat’ll be trouble in dis here camp. Tink I’m gonna let you sleep, while I make yo’ board & keep. Dat’s a pretty “how da do’. Don’t you hear me calling you? Bet if I come cross dat flo, you won’t find no time to sno’. Daylight all a shining in, while you sleep, why it’s a sin. Ain’t that candlelight enough, for you to burn up all dat snuff. And you go the morning through, burning up the daylight, too. Lize! Don’t you hear me call. No use turning to dat wall.

    —Know the rest?

  24. Ina says:

    i believe we all know why the caged bird sings, sometimes we all feel trapped with hopes to break free

  25. myron o. camps says:

    Where is the poem, Liza Liza bless the lord, dont you know today is the broad. bet if I come cross that flo, you wont find any time to slo. daylight all ah shinning in and you laying up there sleeping why its a sin. If you dont get up you scamp you going to have trouble by this here etc….. Please email me the URL for this one.

  26. shikha tarang says:

    excelent peice of work….

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