This arrangement is constructed from two poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Both are entitled “Sympathy.” The more famous of the two, published in 1899, constitutes the bulk of the song. The less famous, published in 1893, contributes only a few lines.
The first lines of the 1899 poem (the italicized parts) were grafted into the chorus.
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals —
I know what the caged bird feels!
I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting —
I know why he beats his wing!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!
Only a few lines (also italicized) from the earlier poem were included, as part of the coda:
The tear another’s tears bring forth,
The sigh which answers sigh,
The pulse that beats at other’s woes,
E’en though our own be nigh,
A balm to bathe the wounded heart
Where sorrow’s hand hath lain,
The link divine from soul to soul
That makes us one in pain,—
Sweet sympathy, benignant ray, Light of the soul [“soul” changed to “world” in the coda] doth shine;
In it is human nature giv’n A touch of the divine [“in my soul” added to the coda].
As you can see, the first poem was left largely intact.