Monday, June 2, 2014
When Someone Tries to Keep You Silent - It Makes You Want to Sing , in memory of Maya Angelou
Her book, written in 1969, was groundbreaking. Dr. Maya Angelou was a legend. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" was an account of Dr. Maya Angelou's childhood in the Jim Crow south. Her memoirs and poetry brought her to universal acclaim. She was an advocate for all that is wrong in our world - speaking out and exposing oppression, prejudice, racism, domestic violence, rape and more. Sadly, Dr. Angelou passed away Wednesday, May 29, at the age of 86.
Years prior to her 1969 memoir, African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a poem, titled "Sympathy," also referencing the singing of a caged bird.
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!
Reading the above stanza, the image of Dunbar's caged bird struggling with its confinement is vividly displayed. The bird yearns for freedom, as the bars of the cage separate it from the world. Wounded from struggling against the iron barriers, the bird does not give up. The wounds heal, the bird continues to sing and struggle. The bird sings a prayer, wishing to be free. The metal bars of oppression, of abuse, of racism, of poverty are not enough to silence the spirit. For the spirit cannot be broken as long as it does not give up. And singing keeps this creature alive as much as the breath within its being.
Dr. Angelou knew why the caged bird sang. And she revealed her own song through words contained in all the volumes of her writings.
As much as Dr. Angelou was that bird - in her roots of the deep south, I also feel an affinity for the small creature. As a survivor of domestic violence, having lost children in a high conflict divorce to parental alienation, overcoming disabilities and injuries, I, too, have a story that needs to be told. And as Dr. Angelou's books and poems were her own song, my blog is mine.
I know what it is like for someone to try to cage you. And do all in their power to silence you. Literally, and metaphorically speaking. The human spirit is capable of many things. Especially when trying to survive. Literature gives voice to those struggling to be heard. You don't have to sing, just write. Write the untold stories, share the personal experiences and claim your own history. A history of anguish, injustices, and abuse tends to seem more tolerable when given purpose. And exposure lends way to strength. It can also be a way of preventing one's horrible past from becoming someone else's future.
Angelou wrote her own poem about the caged bird singing in "Caged Bird."
Here is the last stanza:
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
When someone is trying to silence the voice of another, freedom is lost. A boundary is crossed. Even though Dr. Angelou's bird is trapped, it still has hope. It does not succumb to the domination of those who wish to leave it caged. I believe the message is clear.
Stand up, and speak out. Always. Even if your voice is shaking. There will always be someone who doesn't like what you say - that's their problem. Freedom is worth singing about.
May Dr. Angelou's memory be for a blessing. She has taught me to keep rising, and tell my story. Quieting a story that needs to be told, is like trapping the caged bird all over again.