Paul Laurence Dunbar
"I know why the caged bird sings" - Paul Laurence Dunbar
From his beloved poem,Sympathy, which he wrote in 1899 while working as a clerk at the Library of Congress.
On the most immediate level, the poem was a response to the stifling confinement and heat he felt as he worked behind the iron grating of the book stacks in the summer. "All out of doors called” to him, and the sweltering heat and oppressive dust contributed to his deteriorating health. But he also depicts a relationship between suffering and creative expression that resonates far beyond the immediate discomfort of his occupation. As the son of freed slaves, he captured the conflict between the desire to take his place in the world, and the artificial barriers and prejudices he faced.
Despite being cut off in his prime by tuberculosis, Dunbar was a prolific writer. He published a dozen books of poetry, eight books, a play, and the lyrics for a musical. He also inspired Maya Angelou who used the last line in Sympathy as the title of her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
In our illustration, a musical staff is knotted into a cage. The clefs form a makeshift perch, and the trapped musical notes fill the stifling space.
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