African American Poetry (1870-1927): A Digital Anthology

Paul Laurence Dunbar, "Sympathy"

Performances of this poem at University of Dayton Dunbar Music Archive

  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!

Published in Lyrics of the Hearthside (1899)
Also printed in Caroling Dusk (1927)