Sounding Childhood

A Cry for Liberty

A Cry for Liberty is sung from the point of a bird in a cage, which was a very popular form of pet-keeping in the nineteenth century.  The lyricist attempts to impress upon his/her young audience the deep desire of the bird for freedom, its poignant refrain recalling human desires for liberty--recall that America had just 20 years earlier fought a war for these ideals: Liberty! Sweet Liberty! When wilt thou come to set me free?” intones the bird in the Chorus, which could equally be a line from a slave spiritual.  It was very popular among Victorian children to keep caged birds; thus, this song indicts the singer him/herself for preventing the bird’s God-given right to be free: “Then would I mount to azure heights, / And chant my Maker’s praise” (v. 4).  Demonstrating an anthropocentric view that animals cannot live without human protection, the singer offers  to supply “daily needs” (v. 2), a “silver-sanded floor” (v. 3), and “bars of glitt’ring brass” (v. 3) are now soundly rejected by the bird-speaker.  Seely’s tune invokes a parlor ballad in its earnestness; its careful use of ascending lines to fit moments of “soar[ing] among the free” appears to be tone-painting to mimic the desired flight of birds.

“A Cry for Liberty”   #56 from Eddy.      Anon./ M. W. Seeley

(v. 1) O Liberty! Sweet Liberty! I pine and faint for thee!
 Fain I would burst my prison bars, And soar among the free!
O Liberty! Sweet Liberty! When wilt thou come to set me free?

(v. 2) E’en though my little daily needs Each morning are supplied,
 A humbler fare were sweeter far With fetter’d wing untied.
O Liberty! Sweet Liberty! When wilt thou come to set me free?

(v. 3) I loathe the silversanded floor, The bars of glitt’ring brass;
I long to build my lonely nest ‘Neath corn or tangled grass.
O Liberty! Sweet Liberty! When wilt thou come to set me free?

(v. 4) Then would I mount to azure heights, And chant my Maker’s praise;
‘Midst strains of grateful melody Glad echoes would I raise.
O Liberty! Sweet Liberty!  When wilt though come to set me free?
 

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