Poetry is such an important way of expressing themes, ideas and feelings in a condensed form. ‘Caged bird’ is a poem written by Maya Angelou and ‘Nothings Changed’ is written by Tatamkhulu Afrika. ‘Caged Bird’ is about ‘Freedom’. In this poem Angelou relates back to how Black Americans were treated during the Civil Rights Movement. ‘Nothings Changed’ is also a poem about the American Society which has been written by a man who was demanded to leave his home, District Six. From these two poems, I can explore the themes of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Oppression’. Maya Angelou focuses her poem ‘Caged Bird’ on the impact of the Civil Rights Movement.
Angelou is a black woman with a full experience of the injustice against Black Americans. She has written this poem to reveal the significance of her situation as well as other Black Americans. Angelou is hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature, and as a remarkable woman with many talents she continues to travel the world making appearances and spreading her legendary wisdom. Incredibly she has broken down the barriers of ‘class’ and ‘race’ through her inspiring poetry and autobiographies. The poem fits in with Angelou’s past life since she describes in the poem the discrimination upon Black Americans.
The title ‘Caged Bird’ is a metaphor and the adjective ‘Caged’ gives the reader an idea of what the poem is relating to. Angelou relates back to the history of slavery since the title influences the reader to think of ‘imprisonment’ and ‘oppression’. “The caged bird sings”, Angelou uses this speech to express ‘freedom’ by ‘singing’. She indicates that even though the bird is trapped, it can gain a minor feeling of freedom by singing to its hearts fullest. ‘Nothings Changed’ is particularly about ‘Oppression’, it mainly focuses on the status between Blacks and Whites during the Civil Rights Movement.
The poem fits in with the poet’s life very well since Tatamkhulu Afrika was demanded to leave his home, District Six, along with other Black Americans. Afrika was strangely classified as Malay. He was born in Egypt to a Turkish mother and an Arab father. However, Afrika was first classed as White, but as a reasonable and understanding human being, he denied this and considered himself Black. He did this because he believed that the inequality towards black Americans was wrong and he was determined to support them in this battle of gaining civil rights.
He disagreed with the unjust towards black Americans; this tells us that Afrika was a man of good nature. “Small round stones click”, sensory language has been used here which tells us that life as a Black American was uncomfortable, full of suffering and pain. It contains the sense ‘touch’ which is very effective in creating a vivid meaning for the reader. The title ‘Nothings Changed’ tells the reader that there is no hope for satisfaction towards black Americans. They are desperate for a change, desperate to wipe out the White Society. However, for now ‘nothing has changed’, which tells us that one day something, will change.
The Black Americans are quiet now, but not for long, they will prepare for a sudden attack, an attack to be performed at the right time, but for now they must be patient and ‘sing’ as loud as they can. We can understand that both poets have written their poems for similar purposes with a moral to their message, which is to inform the world of the status between Black and White Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. They want the public to see through the White Society and notice the pain Black Americans go through. The structure of ‘Caged Bird’ is irregular and it contains small stanzas and an odd amount of lines in each stanza.
There is no pattern of syllables in any lines, but there is a rhyme scheme used to make the text stand out and emphasise important parts of the poem. Also, all the way through the poem ‘enjambement’ has been used where there are strong definite emotions involved. ‘Enjambement’ is a standard poetic technique which indicates outpouring information. It is the continuation of a line into the next line, the continuation of the meaning, without a pause or break, from one line of poetry to the next. Maya Angelou has also used ‘repetitive stanzas’ which help to stress out and emphasise important parts.
The structure of ‘Nothings Changed’ is regular and it doesn’t contain rhyme. Therefore, it doesn’t have any kinds of rhyming scheme, but each stanza contains eight lines. Tatamkhulu Afrika has structured the poem like this because it will allow the poem to stand out in the readers mind. Also, we have noticed that every stanza ends with a full stop, which allows the poem to flow from one point to another. Afrika has also used ‘caesuras’ which allow the reader to get alert because whatever is about to come is very important to the moral of the poem.
For a stone, a bomb”, from the comma used in this quote we can understand that a ‘caesura’ is the cut in a line of poetry, used especially to allow its message to be made clear or to follow the rhythms of natural speech; they are often used near the middle of a line. This tells us that the Black Americans have had enough; it is now time to take action against the White Americans. Afrika expresses this by using the noun ‘bomb’ which gives the reader an idea of war and conflict. Black Americans want a bomb to destroy the White Society.
They have now become desperate for their civil rights. From both poems we can understand that there is a very important message that needs to be delivered to all readers. I think that this will be more obvious if the poems are read out aloud, the message will be clearer, and it will be able to reach the nation faster. In ‘Caged Bird’ Maya Angelou has used ‘personification’. This is a technique used to present objects in life form. “And the trade winds soft through the sighing trees”. This is a personification because trees do not sigh.
And we can also understand that ‘symbolism’ has been used here because Angelou uses the word ‘trade’. This relates back to the slavery period of time. Blacks were treated very badly, they were addressed as slaves and they had to travel on ships to get to places where people were willing to trade for them. Therefore, Angelou mentions ‘trade winds soft’ from this we can understand that wind was needed to move the trade ships, but if the wind was soft, then the ships were not getting very far. And the trees sigh, they are unhappy with the delay, the Whites are unhappy with the delay.
In Tatamkhulu Afrika’s ‘Nothings Changed’ ‘onomatopoeia’ has been used. This is the use of words which echo their meaning in sound imitative. It is imitative of the sound associated with the thing or action denoted by a particular word. For example, “trodden on, crunch”. Afrika has also used ‘similes’ which is a comparison based on similarity between two things which suggest one object shares feature with another, but is not wholly identical. “Brash with glass, name flaring like a flag”. From this we can understand that a simile is a phrase especially containing the word ‘like’ or ‘as’.
Afrika is also pointing out how White Americans tried to make Black Americans jealous by showing off. Afrika has used the words ‘brash with glass’ which gives us plain evidence of White Americans intention to show off. Glass is expensive and transparent so that you can see through it. It will shimmer in the distance and attract people, it will attract the Black American, and they will see through this glass and feel envious of what White Americans have. They do not have this kind of luxury, they do not have the authority to ask for this, and they do not have the money because they are said to be inferior.
Afrika has also used ‘assonance’ in his poem. This is the repetition of similar or identical vowel sounds in words which follow each other. ‘Caged Bird’ is a poem with a great meaning written by a talented poet who has full experience of the Civil Rights Movement, in her poem she has written about ‘how to gain freedom’. She does this by using the solution of ‘singing’ to free ones mind from oppression. However, Afrika who is a man that values humanity has very cleverly written his poem ‘Nothings Changed’ to bring about the seriousness of ‘Oppression’.
In conclusion, I prefer Maya Angelou’s ‘Caged Bird’ because from my knowledge, this poem seems to make more sense to me. I believe this because as I read this poem, I can get ideas of what the moral of the poem is, and what message Angelou is trying to reveal. I also think that ‘Caged Bird’ is most successful in its presentation of the themes of ‘freedom’ and ‘oppression’ because this poem goes right to the point, right to the moral of the message, it doesn’t leave any gaps in your mind, and you are able to question your thoughts as you read the poem.
This poem, based on the problems in South Africa between blacks and whites, starts with a title that shows the poet’s viewpoint that nothing has changed.
The opening feels untidy, with irritating stones that ‘click’ under the writer’s feet, an example of onomatopoeia creating the hard irritating sound.
There are weeds all around, adding to the untidy picture created. Stanza two identifies the place as ‘District Six’ which is identifiable not by a sign ‘board’ but by instinct ‘my feet know and my hands …. ’ Indeed all his body seems to know.
The stanza ends with a sense of great anger ‘and the hot, white, inwards turning anger of my eyes’ which shows that the writer feels great anger that this location is labelled this way and is in this condition.
The third stanza takes us to a ‘brash’ restaurant, full of ‘up market, haute cuisine’ with a ‘guard at the gatepost’. It is most identifiable as a ‘whites only inn’ so no black people are allowed in here. It is not meant to be seen positively by the reader as the poet calls it ‘brash’, it is personified as something almost hiding or lurking in the grass and weeds ‘it squats’.
The fact that there has to be a guard at the gatepost shows that something is wrong here, that those inside need protection from a guard.
The fourth, brief stanza highlights the racism inherent in South Africa the most clearly with ‘we know where we belong’ as no sign says it, but they are clearly told where there place is in society.
The writer looks in through the window in stanza five, to see what there is in the restaurant, although there is the sense of knowing what will be there: ‘crushed ice white glass’ and each table has a table cloth on it and a ‘single rose’.
The contrast with the ‘working man’s café’ down the road is clear in stanza six. You can take your food with you, there are plastic tables and no serviettes as people wipe their fingers on their jeans, ‘spit a little on the floor’ and this is all second nature to them ‘it’s in the bone’. This is a complete contrast with the restaurant as this is much more unpleasant and uncivilised.
The final stanza sees the poet moving away from the scene, reverting to being a ‘boy again’ and there is a sense of smallness about him with ‘a small mean O of small, mean mouth’ as if the whole experience has left him feeling inadequate and small.
He wants to throw a stone or ‘a bomb’ at the glass, such is his anger at the whole scene.
The anger that nothing has changed.