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Summary Of The Sympathy Poem English Literature Essay

1383 words (6 pages) Essay in English Literature

5/12/16 English Literature Reference this

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The poem Sympathy, written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Paul is expressing to the readers all of the difficult problems he has encountered in his lifetime. He is relating his life to a bird that is trapped in a cage, while everything around or outside of the cage is growing and living. Dunbar uses the illustration of being trapped in a cage to not being able to find a job that well suits him without someone making fun of his race. He is expressing how life is like he is “stuck in a cage” and how he can’t get out no matter what he does or says.

To the proud parents of Matilda and Joshua Dunbar came a beautiful baby boy named Paul Laurence Dunbar who was born on June 27, 1872. At the age of six, Dunbar started composing and narrating many poems that were shared by his mom, which led him to Dayton Central High. Dunbar had an extraordinary life starting out in 1892, when he published his first collection, Oak and Ivy ( Between 1892 and 1893, Dunbar also published a collection called Majors and Minors, which brought him to being famous. In 1893, Dunbar was asked if he wanted to read some of his poems at the World’s Fair, which also led him to Toledo, Ohio in 1895. Two years later, Dunbar was once again asked if he would come out and read some of his poems. But this time he was asked by the London Literary Circuit. Here, he met a beautiful photographer with the name of Alice Ruth Moore and both decided to get engaged and then married a few years later on March 6, 1898. Then about five years later, Paul and Moore decided to get a divorce. One year before their marriage, one of Dunbar’s friends found out that he had raped Alice in November 1897. He also found out that again on January 25, 1902, that Paul brutally assaulted her and tried to kill her ( ). In 1904, he went and visited his half brother in Chicago before returning to his mother in Dayton. Here, in February 9, 1906, Paul Laurence Dunbar died from tuberculosis. During his whole lifetime, Dunbar created and establishes twelve books of poetry, four books of short stories, a play, and five novels (

This poem is talking about how a bird is locked up in his cage and he can’t get out. It’s almost like how humans get put in jail and they can’t get out. It’s also saying how beautiful it is outside with the sun shining bright on the hills made of springing grass, and how much this locked up bird is missing out on. This poem is also talking about how winter is turning to spring by seeing the flowers and trees budding and how the stream is running smoothly in the quiet day. This bird is all cooped up in its cage while everything outside is sprouting and free. As much force and strength this bird has in trying to get out, it’s hurting itself by flapping its wings so hard on the bars. You can see how desperately this bird wants to get out by how much blood it’s putting on the bars of the cage. The good times this bird had while it was free had now turned into scars. These scars get older and older, which remind this bird of all the good times it had in the wild. Since this bird had been trying to get out before and be free, his wings are hurt and bruised, but still this mighty bird is trying to get out. Because of this pain, he is singing a tune. But this singing is not because he is happy or sad. He is doing this because he is sending a plea to Heaven to have mercy on him.

Dunbar uses many metaphors in his poem, Sympathy. First, he compares a bird that is trapped in a cage to slavery and then he uses the bird to show the pain of no freedom. The song the bird sings represents that he wants freedom (

Sympathy_by_Paul_Laurence_Dunbar_analysis.php). The stanza highlights how desperate and forlorn the bird really is. It also shows how the people desperately want to be set free from slavery. The bird isn’t singing a song or prayer of joy or glee, but he is singing a prayer to Heaven. In the lines, “I know what the caged bird feels…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”, the author is expressing how he comprehends what it feels like to have freedom. This poem as a whole, is talking about how a ton of other people are trapped in “cages” because of something that went on, which prevents them from experiencing the situations outside of their “cages”.

The poem, Sympathy has many poetic devices in it. One is the tone of the poem, which is urgency and how he places the bird in a position where he wants something, such as freedom. The writer wants freedom because wherever he goes or whatever he does, people make fun of him for his color (real life). Paul Laurence Dunbar wants the reader to feel bad for the bird and how he is suffering in slavery in his cage. The mood, as I said above, is sadness and sorrow, which the author is trying to make us feel. He is putting the poem to where he wants the reader to actually put himself/herself into the story so that they can find out how being in slavery really feels. One simile found in this poem is “And the river flows like a stream of glass”. And last but certainly not least is that this poem rhymes.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was that type of person who didn’t like being made fun of. But yet the time period he lived in a lot of people didn’t really like blacks that much. He had a hard life starting out with being the only black student in Dayton Central High. And then later in his life, he ruined it for himself by raping and hurting his wife before and during their marriage. No one knows why he did it, but a lot of philosophers believe that his past effected how he acted in the future, such as when people made fun of the black race. But besides that, Paul made a big impact in some other peoples’ lives by the poems and stories he wrote.


By Paul Laurence Dunbar

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 its wings

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!

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