05/28/2014 06:06 pm ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

The Caged Bird Still Sings

Maya Angelo's death hasn't stilled her voice; she continues to touch countless lives with her indomitable message: break free.

"I created myself," she once said.

Angelo showed us by example, using the cruel ache of her childhood -- rape, prejudice and poverty -- to transform herself into a poet, a caged bird who sings.

Her life is a testament to what can happen when you refuse to be shackled by circumstances and reach.

While she never studied at college, she earned dozens of honorary degrees. She sang and danced on a European tour with the opera production of Porgy and Bess. She wrote an international bestseller. What's more, she was the poet who "inaugurated" a president.

But most of all, she was a poet of the people. She belonged to us. It was her voice we wanted to hear in times of triumph, with her words confetti. And in times of tragedy, it was her voice we wanted to hear. She was our medicine woman with her words a balm.

In her poem "Caged Bird" Angelou wrote:

"A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing

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."

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