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The Objection To Being Stepped On - Robert Frost Poetry Interpreted by J.T. Best

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The Objection To Being Stepped On
          By: Robert Frost

At the end of the row
I stepped on the toe
Of an unemployed hoe.
It rose in offense
And struck me a blow
In the seat of my sense.
It wasn’t to blame
But I called it a name.
And I must say it dealt
Me a blow that I felt
Like a malice prepense.
You may call me a fool,
But was there a rule
The weapon should be
Turned into a tool?
And what do we see?
The first tool I step on
Turned into a weapon.

     I see two levels to The Objection To Being Stepped On. The first is its overall simplistic presentation that was probably inspired by reality. Having lived on a farm in the hills of West Virginia back in the forties, I know all too well the adversities associated with the stepping upon an upturned blade of a prostrate rake or hoe.
     It is the second level that is revealing. “I dreamed I was a frog that dreamed he was a man and then woke up not knowing which he was”. The poem cautions me to beware that things are not always as they appear. The simpliest garden tool can be a weapon and once that dual, or mutiple, use is discovered, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two in regards to what is real at any given moment in time.

This brief essay can also be found at The Radical Georgia Moderate. Click here to go there

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By:  Maya Angelou



     While surfing a literary forum I happened upon a post inquiring as to the meaning behind the following four lines of verse. The words had considerable appeal so I left some comments. 


The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.


     Having never seen those words before and not knowing from whence they came I ascertained the identity of their author and learned that Maya Angelou is a well-respected black author of some notoriety. Those four lines turned out to be part of a poem entitled I know Why The Caged Bird Sings, which had initial appeal; certainly relative to the message I believed was being sent by a black woman who fought for racial freedoms. With my interest picked I undertook to write my reaction to the following poem as to "why" the caged bird sings and immediately ran into all sorts of trouble.


                  I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings



The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and is tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

     My first problem had to do with my lawyer mind sorting out what Maya's poem was about, i.e. a “singing bird in a cage," or "the freedom of a singing bird in a cage." Those two concepts can be dramatically different inasmuch as the bird may very well sing simply because it is genetically programmed to do so, especially when in the presence of a bird of the opposite sex during mating season. In such an instance an answer to the "why" question as relates to singing can be easily imagined.

     As to the freedom concept the philosophical discussion regarding the "Allegory of the Cave" comes to mind. Translated to bird talk, a bird born into captivity learns that small world to be its reality, consequently flittering about the cage represents a total freedom. To the caged bird the world outside the cage constitutes nothing more than pictures on a wall as in the Allegory of the Cave.

     Inapposite, the so called free bird floating downstream on the back of the wind still has its chains, its wings are not large enough to fly as high as it can see nor are they streamlined enough to fly as far as others who fly south for the winter. So, it too, is locked into a prison of sorts by not being able to fly high enough or far enough. Its wings might just as well be clipped for it too lives in a cage with each bar of the cage put there by each linear strand of its parents DNA.

     So does Maya want me to believe that a bird, fed well enough to sing in a cage, is crying for the same freedom enjoyed by the free bird floating downstream on the back of the wind. My answer is that neither bird has the wherewithal to understand their freedom or limitations thereof; poetic license notwithstanding.

     In furtherance of that postulate, I would rather wonder why, before going to sleep at night, a black man born into slavery sings in his slavery quarters. The bird is not sentient; the black man is, so it is the consciousness of reality that gives the concept of singing and freedom a meaning. Thus, I think the metaphors, Maya used to send the message of singing for freedom, are both contradictive and malapropos. It may well be that living in a cage is not in the best interests of a bird species well known to fly and flitter about in the wild but the bird cannot so reason.

     Most if not all the times in my life where I presumed to know what was best for another person proved to be in error because what I wanted for them was something they often did not want for themself. That said, humans are a species I know a little something about, but of how a bird thinks, I know nothing.