Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem titled "Sympathy" is a metaphor for what it means to be a black male during the 1800s. As a poet, Dunbar was praised as the Poet Laureate of the black race, but at the same time he was criticized for being too pro-white within his writings. With this being said, much of Dunbar's literary success didn't happen until the second-half of the 20th century.
Dunbar was an intelligent man who wrote in both common English and black dialect. Poetic scholars like William Dean Howells has suggested Dunbar's poetry can be divided into two specific groups: dialect and literary. It is often believed that Dunbar's poetry written in dialect is a more authentic view of himself and his culture.
This poem, "Sympathy", is an example of Dunbar's literary poems. However, this poem does serve cultural significance even without Dunbar's use of dialect. This poem is made up of three stanzas with each consisting of a rhyming pattern: ABCCBAA, ABAABAA, ABCCBAA.
"Sympathy" is about a bird who is peeking outside his cage and sees a beautiful landscape with the sun shining bright. The author continues the poem by stating he knows the way the bird feels. The second stanza mentions the bird clanging his wings against the bars until it bleeds. The bird's "old, old scars" suggests that the bird has done this many times before, wanting terribly to get out. The author also wants to get out. The final stanza is about the bird singing, not of "joy or glee" but of prayer. The bird is asking God to let him leave his cage to enjoy the beauties of the outside world. Dunbar states he knows why the bird acts this way and even suggests that he does the same.
This writing is a metaphor for how Dunbar feels about his life and how many blacks felt about their own during the time of its writing. They felt trapped inside a cage, wishing they could get out and enjoy the other areas of life the same way whites could. They wanted to enjoy the river and the "springing grass." However, no matter how hard they tried and prayed, it wasn't possible. But even knowing their fate, they continue trying.
PoemSympathyBy Paul Laurence Dunbar I know what the caged bird feels, alas! When the sun is bright in the upland slopes; When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass And the river flows like a stream of glass; Whend the first bird sings and the first buds 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 birds sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, When he beats his bars and 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 updward to Heaven he flings - I know why the caged bird sings.
Next: We Wear the Mask
Find out more information about this poem and read others like it.
Modernism, 19th Century
Race, Animal, Nature, Freedom, God, Life
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An Interpretation of Paul Laurence Dunbar's Poem Sympathy and We Wear the Mask
1228 WordsMar 30th, 20055 Pages
Throughout African American history, African Americans have used poems as a way of describing the African American condition in America. One poet who was widely known for using poetry to describe the condition of African Americans in America was Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the most prolific poets of his time. Paul Laurence Dunbar used vivid, descriptive and symbolic language to portray images in his poetry of the senseless prejudices and racism that African Americans faced in America. Throughout this essay I will discuss, describe and interpret Sympathy and We Wear the Mask. Both Sympathy and We Wear the Mask were written by Paul Laurence Dunbar. To begin with, the poem Sympathy suggests to the reader a…show more content…
Dunbar speaks of the chalice, river, and grass which are parts of nature that a person who is not oppressed, may enjoy and take for granted. Unlike the non oppressed people; chalice, river, and grass are parts of nature in which underprivileged people cannot enjoy because of social and economic circumstances. Dunbar uses language that reaches out, and projects a vivid image in which the reader may relate to. In the second stanza, Dunbar refers to the emotional and physical abuse that imprisonment and oppression puts on both the caged bird and the African Americans. Dunbar begins the second stanza with,
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
This stanza states that the caged bird and African Americans need to be both physically and emotionally set free. The previously mention stanza suggests that the cage bird and African American will result to any means necessary to gain its freedom. The caged bird and African Americans may use extreme tactics to gain freedom, for example resulting to self-inflicted physical wounds. The self-inflicted wounds come from the battle for freedom. Dunbar describes why the caged bird beats his wing till its blood is red on the cruel bars because he must "fly back to his perch and cling when he fain would be on the bough a-swing"(African American Literature). The African Americans experienced this same kind of pain from fighting