Maya Angelou and my “Philippine Childhood”

One of the first few authors that I’ve met (through their works) as a young and naive immigrant kid back in the 1980s was none other than one of America’s most prolific, legendary authors of all time: Maya Angelou. As many of you already know, Madame Angelou passed away a few days ago at the age of 87. Even when she was still alive, she was already considered a true American legend. If only I had the chance to see her in person, at least once, in my life, but sadly, I know it’s already too late.

During my eighth grade English class, I stumbled upon a selected excerpt from her best-selling autobiographical piece, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Even though this piece was not included in my class curriculum back then, it was something that I got curious of because I was very curious about what an ideal “American childhood” should be like and how it differs greatly to the ideal “Philippine childhood” that I still brought along with me at that time. This piece became a sidenote reading to me as I was completely drawn to this selected scene and came to learn and understand the few words that didn’t exist in my “Philippine Childhood”: prejudice, discimination, and most of all, racism.

But one term that I mostly learned and came to understand from that one excerpt as well that stood out for me: freedom.

The saddest part also was that at the time that I started reading this excerpt that I pretty much experienced what Maya also experienced when she was a child. At that time I came to learn how prejudice and discrimination of any kind whatsoever isn’t just wrong, but also immoral1 and inhuman. As I grew up, even through my teenage years, I became a strong believer of the term unity in diversity.

This particular poem is definitely my favorite of all the Angelou poetry I’ve read. It also came from the Caged Bird novel as well!

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

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.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

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.

It’s a short tribute, but I also would like to conclude that Maya Angelou also became my inspiration to become a writer. Sure, my original pieces aren’t as deep or thought-provoking as hers, plus I am not a poetry myself, but I’m pretty sure that many of today’s famous authors also look up to her as a role model and an inspiration to become who they are today.

May you rest in peace, Madame Angelou. You will truly never be forgotten no matter what generation we belong to. You are now at a better place, right at the Kingdom of God.


On the sidenote...

  1. in terms of my spiritual beliefs as a Roman Catholic. []