Question: Explore the ways in which the poets in the following poems use imagery to vivid effect. Use examples from both the poems.
Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
Before the Sun by Charles Mungoshi
The poem, Caged Bird by Maya Angelou, dramatizes the discrimination between the blacks and the whites. As this issue relates to the life of the poet, she expresses her way of thinking through this poem. The poet speaks about two birds, one which is free, expressing the freedom which the blacks desire, and another a caged bird, articulating their actual standing. The poet puts across her thoughts in order to evoke an emotion of sympathy towards the Afro-Americans, from the readers.
To give a more vivid and an effective outcome, the poet has used various imageries to convey an array of feeling. The poet talks about the liberty of the free bird by saying,
“dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky”1.
This sentence gives us the impression of how the free bird opens its wings and flies around in the blue sky, without any obstructions by anyone. This is a desire which the Afro-Americans in the society had, as they were always under restrictions by the whites. In the next stanza, we see that, Maya speaks of a caged bird that can,
“seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing”2.
This image of the condition of the caged bird gives us the knowledge that it cannot fly or even walk, on top of it, the bars of the cage makes him furious. The Afro-Americans of the world were in the same position, where the limitations were raising their temper, however they could not demand and fight for their justice.
There was a terror in the voice of the caged bird as the poet says that it
“sings with a fearful trill”3.
Being restrained from many matters of life, a dread of panic had entered the Afro-Americans. They were terrified of each and every move of the whites, although they longed for a day when they will gain freedom. “caged bird sings of freedom”4, through this sentence, the poet compares the caged bird and the Afro-Americans of the society, as both hopes for free will. A very strong imagery of the horror of the Afro-Americans is being given in the fifth stanza of the poem. Maya uses the words, “stands on the grave of dreams”5, to show how the hardships and frustrations of living in a segregated Afro-American community has forced the Afro-Americans to think that their wishes and demands have come to an end, as they are dominated by the rules of white people.
An image of a grave tells us that the surrounding is dark, lonely and gloomy; therefore we get an impression about the kinds of thoughts which go across in the Afro-American group of people’s minds. They face so much of annoyance and dissatisfaction that, just a nightmare can make even their shadows scream of terror. The last stanza of the poem again repeats the lines in the third stanza, emphasizing on the yearning of freedom by the Afro-Americans, though having a dread in them. Therefore, we saw how Maya Angelou has used various effective imageries in conveying the sentiments and emotions of the Afro-Americans.
The poem, Before the Sun by Charles Mungoshi, sensationalizes the emotions of a child who is in his childhood, but on the verge of becoming an adult. The boy is on the threshold of maturity. The poet speaks about a child, who is in his adolescence and who is very close to nature. Therefore, the poet uses vivid imageries of nature to convey the thoughts of the boy. The boy communes with nature and the universe. We read the poem through the boy’s voice.
In the first stanza itself, we get the hint that the boy is close to the nature. We can see that, the child is waiting for the sun to come up as he says,
“Intense blue morning
promising early heat”6,
so that he can have a new start of the day. The figurative meaning of this would be that, he is waiting for his manhood to come. His childhood is the night, which is innocent of the activities going on in the world, and the sun for which he is waiting is his adulthood, which will bring a new day in his life. This day is revealing, which results in a loss of innocence of the night, i.e. the boy’s childhood, as he will gain experience.
The second stanza is an image, where we visualize the boy cutting a wood with an axe. This is a very effective image, as we actually have the vision of cutting of a tree and, the chips flying away. This is shown as Mungoshi says in this stanza,
“The bright chips
fly from the sharp axe”7.
The word, “arc”, is very effective, as it has both, visual and an audible image, of the short span of time when the axe is whacked on the tree, and the chip of the wood, flies and settles down n the grass, making the shape of an arc in the air. The third stanza has an imagery of a, “big log”8, of wood being wanted by the boy to cut. A sense of achievement is being shown by Mungoshi, which the boy desires, as he is in his teenage years.
The fifth stanza has again a very strong and an effectual imagery of the wood being cut, and dust coming out of the wood. The phrase,
“It sends up a thin spiral
of smoke which later straightens
and flutes out
to the distant sky: a signal-
of some sort,
or a sacrificial prayer.”9
This is a visual image, where the boy tells the readers, that how, when the wood is being cut, the smoke makes a spiral shape and moves up. The words, ‘flutes out’, tells us that the smoke makes a sound while going up, which is very similar to the sound of a flute. The boy considers moving away towards his adulthood by sacrificing his childhood, as a result he says, that the smoke which is going is, “a sacrificial prayer”.
“The wood hisses,
The sparks fly”10,
is an imagery of log of woods burning in the fire, and the sparks makes a kind of sound. This fire can be the image of a sacrificial fire, as he imagines of sacrificing childhood.
The last stanza of the poem has an imagery of the process of eating, as the boy says, “taking big
one for the sun,
one for me”11.
The last line, “two little skeletons in the sun”, tells us that the two skeletons are two cobs of maize which the boy was eating, although, this image can be the remains of his childhood, which he sacrificed. Therefore, we see how Charles Mungoshi has used vivid and effective visions and sounds to portray the feelings of the boy in moving towards maturity and adulthood.
In the end, it is seen that both the poems have one major theme in common, i.e. the desire of freedom. The Afro-Americans symbolized by the caged bird wants the freedom of rights and speech, and on the other hand the adolescent boy wants to enjoy the same lack of restrictions enjoyed by the adults. Both of them are impatiently waiting for their freedom.
1 Caged Bird, by Maya Angelou Stanza 1, l-3
2 Caged Bird, by Maya Angelou Stanza 2, ll-5-6
3 Caged Bird, by Maya Angelou Stanza 3 l-7
4 Caged Bird, by Maya Angelou Stanza 3 l-10
5 Caged Bird, by Maya Angelou Stanza 5 l-14
6 Before the Sun, by Charles Mungoshi Stanza 1 ll-1-2
7 Before the Sun, by Charles Mungoshi Stanza 2 ll- 5-6
8 Before the Sun, by Charles Mungoshi Stanza 3 l-12
9 Before the Sun, by Charles Mungoshi Stanza 5 ll- 20-25
10 Before the Sun, by Charles Mungoshi Stanza 6 ll- 26-27
11 Before the Sun, by Charles Mungoshi Stanza 8 ll- 38-41