A poem like "Sympathy"—with its repeated line, "I know what the caged bird feels, alas!"—can be read as a cry against slavery, but was probably written out of the feeling that the poet’s talent was imprisoned in the conventions of his time and exigencies of the literary marketplace.
From Paul Laurence Dunbar. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. Copyright © 1979 by G.K. Hall & Co.