Ballad of Birmingham
Dudley Randall’s Ballad of Birmingham: Literary Analysis and Interpretation
Dudley Randall was born on the 14th of January, 1914 in Washington, D.C. Randall led a life of intellectual exploration, service, and literary entrepreneurship. He started writing poetry at an early age, and filled notebooks throughout his years, drawing on the civil right movements, work experiences, travels, and personal experiences for inspiration. In addition to serving his country in the Pacific theatre during World War II, Randall worked for Ford Motor Company, the U.S. Postal service, and several libraries. In the 1960’s, he built one of the most important presses in American history, Detroit Free Press, and went on to publish scores of African American authors, as well as several books of his own poetry, including some truly classic pieces (Gutstein).
For several years, this country has been unjust and humanity has not always been treated equally. Dudley Randall, who is most famous for his literary contributions, wrote a poem called “Ballad of Birmingham” representing the inequality and racism during the early 1960’s. The main themes of the poem are racism and the struggle of African Americans around the time of the civil rights movement in 1964.
In the poem “Ballad of Birmingham”, Randall illustrates a conflict between a child who wishes to march for civil rights and a mother who wishes only to protect her child. Much of the poem is read as a dialogue between a mother and a child, a style that gives it an intimate tone and provides insight to the feelings of the characters. Randall uses a sad tone and irony to describe the events of one of the most vivid and vicious chapters from the civil rights movement, the bombing of a church in 1963; consequently, wounding 21 people and costing four girls their lives. Throughout the poem the child is eager to go into Birmingham and march for freedom with people there, the mother on the other hand is adamant that the child should not go because it is unsafe. It is obvious that the child is concerned about the events surrounding the march and wants to be part of the movement. The child expresses these feelings in a way that appears to be mature and perceptive of the surrounding world, expressing a desire to support the civil rights movement rather than to “ go out and play.” This is displayed when the child says, “Other children will go with me,/And march the streets of Birmingham/To make our country free”(10-12). The mother gives permission for the child to go to church, instead of the freedom march, to sing in the children’s choir at their church believing that nothing will harm her child in the place of God. The tragedy, a central feature of many ballads, becomes especially clear and poignant at the end, when the mother searches for he missing daughter. The most emotional scene in the story portrays how you can be deceived and how African Americans were never safe, Randall draws us vivid imagery when he says:
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child. (21-28)
In his poem “Ballad of Birmingham” Dudley Randall explores the themes of racism and struggle; ultimately, using elements of style such as repetition, rhyme and rhythmical patterns, he argues that anything can happen, even when one least expects it.
Dulce et Decorum Est Analysis
Wilfred Owen’s Poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Shows the reality of war firsthand. He repeats the term “Dulce et Decorum Est” to emphasize how people were encouraged to fight for their country and how war was glorified. However, when he writes about the memories and flashbacks of World War I, it becomes clear that war is anything but glorious. Owen describes in his writing that people will encourage you to fight for your country, but, it may be sentencing yourself to a pointless demise. He is well aware that death is hideous and is forced to face his comrades violent deaths, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight/ He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”(15-16). He makes you feel as if you are in a war with him, watching his friend get gassed and having images of bent bodies corrupting your mind. Owen uses imagery, similes, and irony to make the reader engaged in his poem. His similes compare war to diseases that may be incurable, “Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud/ Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues”(23-24.)
Owen uses interesting words to describe his war experience such as, “ Men marched asleep,” and “Drunk with fatigue.” Owen could have used word like “the men sleepily marched,’ and ‘they were extremely tired,’ but he chose not to. He also uses adjectives that make simple things into horrific scenes such as, “ecstasy of fumbling,” and “smother dreams…” Something as simple as dreams he turns into nightmares. He makes words like that ironic. In the last line, “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori,” is irony itself (Wilfred) .Translated in English it means it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country. There is nothing sweet about a painful death. The theme of this poem is anti-war, he discourages enlistment by shedding a negative light, especially when saying, “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory,/The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum Est” (25-27)
A Theme of The Love of the Mother in the Poem
Analysis of “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall
I know you aren’t a huge fan of poetry but I think you would change your mind if you just took one look at this poem. I was looking through my Literature book and saw this poem and thought that it fit what I am always telling you; if it is my turn to die I am going to die regardless of what I am doing.” The poem, “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall is about a little girl and her mom discussing why she can’t go downtown. The mother thinks it is too dangerous for the little girl and says that she can go to the church instead. In the end, the child goes to the church but dies in an explosion, in the church. I thought of you when I read this because you are always concerned with what I am doing and if I am going to be all right. You are terrified that I am going to be flying in a 4 seated airplane next Friday, but you just need to remember what I always say “if it’s time for me to die, then it doesn’t matter what I’m doing” along with remembering this poem.
There are phrases in the poem that are more meaningful and stand out drawing you to this poem in spite of your disinterest in poetry. This has a very interesting rhyme sequencing that draws your attention even more. Every other line usually rhymes, which makes each stanza, stand out. In the first stanza, “Mother dear, may I go downtown/Instead of out to play, / and march the streets of Birmingham/ In a Freedom March today?”, you can see the rhyming that occurs between lines 2 and 4.
This poem also shows a thing called persona. The author appears to be standing by and observing, but in the end you get the sense that the author is the mother looking back at what happened to her daughter. This is very evident in lines 5 and 6 “no, baby, no, you may not go, / For the dogs are fierce and wild” and lines 13 and 14 “no, baby, no, you may not go, / For I fear those guns will fire.” The mother and daughter ‘s roles are shown by the different tones in the poem. The mother shows a protective tone, which seems to come from experience rather than speculation. A mother by nature will shelter a child at all costs to keep her child safe. There usually is a problem with what the mother thinks vs. what the child thinks should happen. The voice in the poem is shown by how the mother talks to her child in a concerned manner because she fears that something may happen to her. The child however has a different tone. The child is upset that she can’t go so what the others are doing because her mother thinks it’s not safe as in lines 9 and 10 “but, mother, I won’t be alone. / Other children will go with me”. This movement back and forth between the appearance of the different tones of the mother and daughter is unique and adds validity to the poem.
Mom when I was reading this poem, I thought that you would relate to it. This poem shows how our lives have been and still are even though I am now an adult. You always wanted me to be safe, and I wasn’t permitted to do things that you thought weren’t safe. The end of the poem fits due to the fact that I’ve tried to reassure you that I will be all right when you express your nervousness on my upcoming trip. Just remember that life is a planned event and what is to be will be and nothing either one of us does will change the outcome.
Analysis Of The Poem The Ballad Of Birmingham By Dudley Randall
“The Ballad of Birmingham” is a poem written by well-renowned author, Dudley Randall. The poem pleasingly serves as a traditional ballad in which the story is being told in the style of a song. The informative tone of the poem pursues to teach us something in efforts to further the theme of inessential devastation. Furthermore, Randall creates the tone of the story and conveys his message by utilizing numerous literary devices. To begin with, it is evident that irony is of the most importance throughout this poem. Specifically speaking, the young child dying in the church after being told by their mom to go there to be safe is very ironic, and it fully depicts the present issue of racial violence in the southern states as well as the country. The dramatic absence of security summarized the difficulties caused by America’s government as their main job was to secure peace and safety for all. Unfortunately, African Americans were not given what was sworn. In “Ballad of Birmingham,” Dudley Randall illustrates a disagreement between a child who seeks to march for civil justices and a mother who only wants to protect her child. In addition, Randall uses imagery to provide the audience with an idea of the setting in Birmingham, Alabama. He says, “For the dogs are fierce and wild, and clubs and hoses, guns and jails aren’t good for a little child”.
Majority of this poem is delivered as dialogue amongst a mother and a child. Moreover, this particular style grants the feeling of an intimate tone, and it supplementary comprehends the manners of the characters. Throughout this poem, the child is excessively keen to journey to Birmingham in the hopes of marching for freedom. The child asks, “Mother dear, may I go downtown/ And march the streets of Birmingham/ In a Freedom March today?”. However, due to it being extremely dangerous, the mother is awfully adamant and opposed to the idea. African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1960s experienced countless harsh and gruesome acts daily. Dudley Randall states in his art: The mother smiled to know her child was in the sacred place, But that smile was the last smile To come upon her face For when she heard the explosion, Her eyes grew wet and wild. The mother’s approach toward the march is an unreasonable fear for her child’s safety; it is desperately a state of mind that implies her disinterest from the events and opinions that fuel the march. This quote serves as an example of the several tragedies African Americans had to endure in 1960s Birmingham. There were various tragic killings of African Americans to take place in Birmingham. Individuals were setting off bombs, which later lead Birmingham to often be referenced as “Bombingham.”
In conclusion, the bombing of the black church was done because of someone who was prejudice. The march was specifically held for the equal rights of African Americans. The killings caused African Americans to not feel safe anywhere they went, including churches. This “ballad” contains a variety of well-articulated words that can touch the heart of anyone and any race. It has a regular meter when reading it. It could easily be put to music to make a beautiful song.
Analysis And Review Of “Ballad Of Birmingham” By Dudley Randall
Do you enjoy history and a good read? Well, Dudley Randall brings the two together in his adaptation of an event in history. “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall published in 1969, “concisely interprets a tragic event” and manages to capture the malicious and painful moments of the civil rights movement in a short poem about a mother and daughter. After “considering the extent to which audience controls the form of the message”, I have determined that this poem was written for all audiences. It is a beautiful poem that can be read by all people and is written for all people. There isn’t any hateful or disrespectful language used, only painful and innocent language. The poem is written not to show how angry and hateful blacks should be towards white people but more so to ensure regret and sadness in those who read it. In “Ballad of Birmingham”, Dudley Randall makes us feel the pain felt the day of the accident and pulls us into that day and moment through his use of history, imagery, irony, and symbolism.
At the surface, this poem is about a girl who wants to protest for freedom but her mom wants her to be safe, so she sends her to church instead. While the girl is at church a bomb explodes and the girl never makes it back to her mother. A lot of history goes into understanding “Ballad of Birmingham” with greater detail. It isn’t just about the little girl and her mother, there is more to the story than just the surface. “Ballad of Birmingham” is a depiction of what might have happened between the mother and child of one of the girls that lost their life the day of the bombing. What bombing you might ask, well on September 15, 1963 “The 16th Street church which was the first and largest black church in Birmingham” was bombed down by “a bomb planted in the church’s basement”. According to Lonnie Bunch “a moment that the world would never forget”. Four young girls lost their lives that day. The next day life went on as normal. No one talked about it nor did they take a moment of silence. Carolyn McKinstry, who was in the church on the day of the bombing, thinks this was the case because “there was nothing we could do about it”. It was simply a way of life and they were black and not respected in society. “It didn’t matter that blacks were killed, that little girls were killed in Sunday school.” Black lives were disposable to white people no matter what the age. Even the police who are supposed to protect all lives acted as if there was nothing they could do about it. There was simply nothing done to give closure to the families that lost a child in the bombing. “The community…did not think white people were going to convict one of their own for the death of black children”, which stayed true for 14 years until someone finally answered for the crime. This bombing wasn’t the only bombing that occurred in Birmingham. According to Joiner, around this time, Birmingham, Alabama was called “Bombingham” because there were “80 unsolved bombings in the city” and the bombing of the church was the only one solved.
If you think deeper into what the poem could mean you find a lot more. First off this is a young girl which we can infer because of the use of children and child to describe people the daughter’s age and the daughter herself. Times are so bad for people of color that the young generation feels like they need to take part for a difference to be made. We usually think of adults being the caretakers for the children but the children are joining in to be the caretakers of their people. Age no longer mattered because more was at stake and people of all ages needed to come together to make a change. During this time of hate and inequality, parents felt that their children we safer in church than outside in the streets with all of the chaos. But on this horrific day in history, the church was the least safe place for anyone to be. You are meant to feel safe in the house of God and the last thing you expect is for someone to stoop so low as to destroy the house of God. But that day, Sunday the 15th of September in the year of 1963 at 10:22 AM, the church was the last place you wanted your children to be.
Imagery adds to the feeling of regret and sadness in those who read it. According to Caldwell, the images that Randall uses, “illustrates the utterly inhumane and destructive results of social and racial bias.” The poem as a whole is imagery. It invokes the image and thought of a mother and child. Everyone can relate to the mother-daughter relationship or even just the love of a mother to their child. The use of a mother and child makes the reader feel more attached to the poem and invokes the thought of the reader’s own mother. The description of the daughter getting ready for church brings a powerful image full of symbolism. “And bathed rose petal sweet, / And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands, / And white shoes on her feet.” White gloves, white shoes, small hands, rose petal sweet are words chosen to describe the girl as she was getting ready for church. Words that hold more meaning than just that of the surface. Nothing harmful can come from small hands. The smell of roses is calming and also known as the odor of sanctity which is associated with the smell of a saint. White gloves and white shoes, white chosen to represent goodness, innocence, and purity. The girl’s shoe found amongst the “bits of glass and brick,” without the girl in sight represents the innocence being lost in the destruction. A pure life lost and ruined by the dark and evil.
Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that a character doesn’t know. “No, baby, no, you may not go, / For the dogs are fierce and wild, / And clubs and hoses, guns and jails/ Aren’t good for a little child.” “No, baby, no, you may not go, / For I fear those guns will fire. / But you may go to church instead / And sing in the children’s choir.” “The mother smiled to know her child / Was in the sacred place,” Despite what the child has to say in objection to her mom, the mother stayed on her instinct that her daughter was not safe on the streets but safest in church, “the sacred place”. The mother wanted only for her daughter to be safe during the time of chaos. Ultimately the desire for the mother to want her daughter to be safe led to her daughter’s demise. If only she let her daughter go protest with the other kids amongst the guns, dogs, clubs, and hoses, her daughter might have made it home that day. What is worse to think about is according to Carter, “The daughter’s preparations for church become her preparations for death”. Reading this poem with knowledgeable mind about the events leading to this poem makes it that much sadder and hard to read. The irony just makes you want to scream at the mother not to make her daughter go to church. The overall piecing irony in this poem is that during this time period “an African American child is safe nowhere in Birmingham”. If this poem was written to show a mother allowing her daughter to go protest, who is to say that the girl would have returned home safely. It may have just been the same outcome. We will never know because as Carter put it, “The child who eagerly wanted to raise her small voice in protest of social injustice has been silenced”.
In “Ballad of Birmingham”, Dudley Randall makes us feel the pain felt the day of the accident and pulls us into that day and moment through his use of history, imagery, irony, and symbolism. History plays an important role in the emotions and understanding of this poem. Without the history, the impact is not the same. Imagery and symbolism play together in order to create this clear image of a young innocent girl against the hate and destruction of white people during this time period. Ironically if the mother would have let her daughter go protest with the other children the daughter probably would have never encountered such destructive hatred. Randall tells the story of the 4 little girls who lost their lives that day in a beautifully sad and meaningful manner. What I learned from reading this poem is that there is hate everywhere and hate finds its way even to the purest of us all.
Rhetorical Analysis Of Ballad Of Birmingham By Dudley Randall
In Dudley Randall’s poem “Ballad Of Birmingham”, he presents an idea of how a normal lifestyle of a mother and daughter can take a turn for the worst because of racial injustice taking effect during the United States, in the 60’s. The Birmingham Church bombing was an attack perpetrated by the Klu Klux Klan because they weren’t willing to accept the recently integrated parts of their city, due to the rising popularity of the fight against racial injustice. Four innocent children were killed during the bombing, which urged Americans to pay attention to the racial violence taking lives of young people who are still incapable to process the endangerment that is being put upon them since they are only adolescents. This event drew national attention and helped the Civil Rights Movement gain momentum because the general public only thought about the discrimination of african-american adults, but the images of young children being burdened by these acts of bloodshed deeply moved and prompted them to take action, In this poem, A naive child is asking her mother if she could attend the march in the streets of Birmingham, but her mother is hesitant in letting her do so because she knows the dangers and atrocities that occur during many of these marches, and she feels irresponsible of her to permit her child in joining this march and exposing her to a chance of there being aggression at the event. She informs her child of several hazards that arise amid these episodes of defiance, but needless to what her mother tells her, the child insists that she let her go because her friends are going to be accompanying her along the way. The mother is fearful her daughter might get injured and insists that she go to a church instead because it is a blessed institution, and she’s positive no harm will be done to her while she is there. Shortly after her child leaves the house, the mother hears a deafening explosion, and she courses through the streets to find her beloved daughter. She doesn’t discover any remains of her daughter, except one of the shoes she wore this morning.
Dudley Randall emphasizes the need to stop racial discrimination throughout this poem by using imagery, symbolism, metaphors, and irony as a way to portray and persuade his audience to act on the issue of civil rights. He also wants to influence the people who are doubtful about joining the fight because of the problematic outcome. Randall applies the dramatic nature of the situation, presented in the poem, to evoke emotions from his audience by showing a trustworthy and innocent relationship between a mother and daughter. Moreover, he adopts a different point-of-view of a historical event to incite the readers into believing that these scenes of cruelty isn’t just coming from a world of imagination, but it’s happening constantly through the hardships faced by african-americans on a daily basis. The attitude/tone directed in this poem is extremely somber and melancholic. The author’s conduct of imagery, along with other literary devices, illustrates the anguish he endured during the period of racial injustice. The author proceeds to incite bitter feelings of grief, by granting the reader to see what horrors were committed to the daughter through the mother’s response to the explosion. The poem advocates that no establishment/place is safe when the thoughts of people are polluted, and anything can happen even when a person least expects it. Randall uses imagery and irony to help the reader form a visualization of the events occuring in the poem, synchronously evoking emotion due to the unpleasantness of the poem set around the incident of the bombing. The poetic elements further put importance on what the poet is trying to achieve, by letting the reader make connections to the objects and understand the paradox created from the meaning of church.
The writer states: For when she heard the explosion Her eyes grew wet and wild She raced through the streets of Birmingham Calling her child. This immediately charters up an image of a grieving mother because she couldn’t find her child in all the dust and rumble caused by the bombing. It forces the reader to sympathize with the mother because of her longing to discover her daughter in the midst of debris, and her tearful eyes showcase the look of insanity and irritation because of her internal feeling of panic caused by the sound of the explosion. Mothers, who are part of the targeted audience of this poem, can associate themselves with the feeling that the mother is going through because the thought of losing one’s child can be heartbreaking for anyone, but it can be utmost difficult for a mother since they are the ones who carried the babies in their womb and are devoted to them since the moment they are born. The mother’s eyes portray a sense of panic because the explosion indicates that something isn’t right, and her animal-like instincts go into full effect since she is trying to figure out whether her daughter is safe or if she has been injured. She is in a state of urgency to locate her daughter as quickly as possible, as “she clawed through bits of glass and brick” due to the fact that she can’t think straight because her daughter is nowhere to be found.
Envisioning such a horrible experience through the mother’s eyes, makes the reader want to comfort her to calm down, but deep inside, the mother is unconsolable because her daughter’s missing. The poet draws irony by using the church as the place the mother tells her daughter to visit, “But you may go to church instead / And sing in the children’s choir and her mother smiled to know her child / Was in the sacred place”. The church is supposed to be a holy place where no wrongdoing can occur, but in this instance, an act of sin happened there and it was far from a safe destination for the child to go to. The mother was adamant on trying to convince her daughter to go to the church to sing, instead of marching the streets of Birmingham because of the riots that can produce during these events. She is fearful that something might happen to a little child in the middle of a huge crowd and she doesn’t know the safety precautions that are taken during one of these marches, so she refuses to risk her child’s security. The irony is that the church will provide a safe haven for her daughter, whereas, the march would not, but the events that occur after she leaves the house, are completely the opposite of what the mother intended. The child is killed during the fiery bombing and her attendance at the march would’ve actually spared her life, much safer from the disaster that transpired. It was unexpected that a political assembly, where violence is prone to happen, is a much secure place for the daughter to be. It appears that one would think of a church to be filled with purity, not evil, but the bombing took place there and it showed how hatred and racism show no boundaries.
To exhibit the guiltlessness of the little girl, the author uses forms of symbolism and metaphors to cement a naive personality of a regular child, when they are unbeknownst to the corrupt world and just take challenges one day at a time, without paying too much consideration to the bad aspects of life. The poet wants the daughter to represent any innocent child and the fight for equality symbolizes an antagonistic entity that resides in America during the Civil Rights Movement, where many african-american children were discriminated against for the color of their skin, but not their knowledge or personality. During the beginning of the poem, the mother inserted “white gloves on her small brown hands / And white shoes on her feet”, which entails the color white, as an indication of purity and decency. White has invariably appeared as an emblem of pristine and promise, so the author’s choice of including that detail in the poem is no accidental occurrence, since that’s the only reference to a color he makes during the poem’s span.
The reader is able to understand that the immature child’s judgement isn’t concerned by the prejudiced attitudes that envelope around her, yet, her beliefs are as fair and unhindered as the color of her clothing. The symbolism implemented by the poet is a critical approach to embody the purity of the daughter as detectable not primarily through her knowledge and understanding, but in her exterior look correspondingly. This commands us to speculate why such an innocent soul, who is unmistakably powerless, would become a victim of such a discriminatory act, in such a barbaric way. Furthermore, this is an accurate depiction of all the prejudiced events that took place in Alabama, along with a lot of other southern states in the 1960’s. Randall’s metaphorical usage compare the likeliness of one thing to another by giving the reader objects and animals to represent something completely different, “For the dogs are fierce and wild / And clubs and hoses, guns and jail / Aren’t good for a little child”.
The poet is depicting the police of Birmingham as the wild dogs because the police were ruthless against the african-americans, whenever they were conducting peaceful protests and marches. They were using inhumane tactics to disturb the peace of the protesters, by spraying them with high-pressurized water from hoses and using their clubs to hit the people, even though they didn’t use any force upon them. Randall identifies the police as the devices who helped prolong the fight against racial inequality, instead of joining it, and feels as if law enforcement were the authority for hate and violence committed in the south since they took no measures to stop it. In addition, the daughter has “white gloves [drawn] on her small brown hands / And white shoes on her feet”, which shows her generally getting dressed for her own death. On some occasions, funerals are held at churches, which gives this line an ironic meaning to it because people mostly wear black to funerals, but since the daughter didn’t know she was going to die, she is wearing white, not knowing the tragedy is is about to succumb to. As it is apparent from the arguments for the poetic devices provided, Dudley Randall wants the reader to feel sympathy for the innocent lives lost due to the Civil Rights Movement by using the bond between a mother and daughter to emit a connection of compassion that all mothers around the world might feel if their child was hurt in any kind of way.
The poet employs the use of a single point-of-view, so the reader can feel a sense of understanding for the terrible reality of the fight for equality being a complex conflict, rather than a straightforward one. It portrayed the harsh actualities of people being judged by the color of their skin, rather than their attitudes, and the author was effective in expressing his ambition to let other citizens know of the atrocities committed against african-americans during the late 1950’s all the way to the entirety of the 1960’s. The writer’s various applications of style and material are presented to be compelling forms of evidence to get his point across on how he feels about the injustices acted upon not just civil rights activists, but young children as well. Thankfully, such acts of discrimination have minimized during the decades following the movement, but we should continue acknowledge that these events ensued so history doesn’t repeat itself.
To the Memory of Mr. Oldham, Ballad of Birmingham, and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night: A Comparative Study on Poetic Forms
Based on the lessons in this course, it is evident that poems are delivered in various forms, depending on the poets’ situations or experiences. Three poems by Dryden, Randal, and Thomas (“To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”, “Ballad of Birmingham”, and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”) reflect on the subjects of death, loss, and mourning. However the tone and seriousness of emotion differs in each. I believe this contrast is related to the different form each poem has. Dryden’s poem “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” uses the form of elegy to create a poem based on the grief he feels after losing a young, creative friend. Elegy is a form of poetry that is used to help poets place grief into words and thus helping their readers embrace mourning. On the other hand, Randall’s poem ” Ballad of Birmingham” uses the form ballad to describe a dramatic event involving the death of a child. Ballad is a form of poetry that usually outlines tragic, heroic or humorist stories often with a dramatic tone. Lastly, Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” uses the form villanelle to describe how men of old age should not die quietly but rather they should die with dignity and excitement. Villanelle is a very technical, mathematical form of poetry that goes against the convents of English language. These three poets used different forms of poetry to document serious (for some traumatic) situations based on or ending with death. Dryden, Randall, and Thomas use elegy, ballad, and villanelle and combined them with the subject of death to add emotion to their poems.
The similarities between all three poems lie in the subject matter of death. In “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”, Dryden reminisces in the short memories he had with his fellow poet, John Oldham. After the death of Oldham, Dryden realizes that even though they were not strong friends and even though Oldham was young, he was still aware of his literary promise. In the poem Dryden states that Oldham’s work would have benefitted if he had lived longer. The tone in this poem is “lighter”, especially when mentioning the subject of death. The amount of grief and mourning Dryden outlined in this poem was appropriate, due to the fact of their friendship being new.
In “Ballad of Birmingham” Randall, too, discusses the subject of death and loss between and mother and her child. “Ballad of Birmingham” ends with a young girl being killed at church, which was supposed to be a safe place from the march. This poem is an example of cruel irony in death. The child’s death was ironic because she was ordered to attend church where it was supposed to be safe, but ends up dying there. The tone in this poem is similar to Dryden because it discusses how people feel after someone is lost. Although, due to how the child dies, the subject matter for this poem is more tragic than Dryden’s.
Lastly, Thomas discusses death in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” based on how people die at an old age. He states that when elder people die while sleeping it stripes them of their dignity. He believes that dying should be an exciting, traumatic event. We learn at the end of the poem that Thomas is personally referencing his own dying father when stating that people should fight death, not embrace it. Because Thomas is talking about his own father, the tone of this poem is more personal than the previous two. While each poem shares the subject of death, they differ in the aspect of death. In each poem a person is either experiencing someone who is dead (being dead in “To the Memory of Mr.Oldham”), someone who has just died (death in “Ballad of Birmingham”), or someone who is dying (the process before death in “Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night). In addition, all three poems contrast on the form and the methods used to enhance emotion in the subject of death.
Dryden used elegy to emphasis mourning and grief in “To the Memory of Mr.Oldham”. Elegatic poems are used to outline the emotion in grief for the poets and the readers. An elegy can be seen as a form of eulogy because the experiences and memories of the deceased are usually highly discussed, like at a funeral. “To the Memory of Mr.Oldham” is an appropriate example of an elegatic poem because Dryden discusses how promising Oldham was and that it was disappointing to see him die at a young age. The rhyming couplets demonstrated in the poem relate to the type of relationship Dryden had with Oldham. They possess an appropriate range of tones that are adequate for this type of elegy. The clever end rhyme couplets highlight that they were only minor friends. However, his tone included just enough despair for us to understand that he would have liked more out of the friendship. This poem is an elegy based on two different characteristics. First, it is an elegy because Dryden reflects on the loss of John Oldham. Secondly, it is an elegy because Dryden discusses how John Oldham was a loss to the literary world, specifically speaking about his work. To conclude, this poem is an elegy because Dryden writes about someone (Mr. Oldham) and something (John Oldham’s contribution to the literary world) that he lost after Oldham’s death.
In “Ballad of Birmingham”, Randall used the form ballad for the subject of death. This form of poetry differs from Dryden’s approach to the subject of death because ballad’s usually document more tragic events. This poem is an example of the traditional ballad because it deals with the theme of tragedy leading to a dramatic conclusion. The theme is tragedy because the mother sends her child to church, thinking that it was the safest option, only to hear an explosion from the same church. The conclusion is dramatic because the mother hurries to the church only to find the white shoe that belonged to her daughter. I believe that Randall chose the form ballad due to lack of intimidation. Ballad’s are not difficult to follow (since they are usually sung), and using the form helps the message across easier. Thus, it quickly becomes popular and delivered from person to person. Randall used the ballad to write about the subject of death with the intention that it would be widely distributed. He wanted people to know about the horrors that took place in Birmingham, which lead to the deaths of innocent children. The dark tone in this poem is subtle but necessary when using a ballad because the themes are always dramatic and tragic. To conclude the emotion Randall’s choice of form for his poem is more emotional than Dryden’s because it involves tragic (the death of a child) and dramatic (the violence of the explosion of the church) events.
Compared to the other two poems, the form of villanelle in Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” are much more technical and difficult to add emotion. While the elegy and ballad require emotion as a characteristic, the villanelle requires rhyme and repetition. Villanelle is a fixed poem form using five tersests (three-lined stanzas) and one quatrain (four-lined stanzas) only allowing the use of two different rhyme sounds throughout. “Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night” is a perfect example of a villanelle because it remains within the constraints of the structure. He uses the rhyme scheme ABA ABA ABA, throughout the poem and while only using two rhyme sounds (night, day, light, right, they, night, bright, bay, light, etc.). While mastering this complicated poem form, Thomas also managed to incorporate emotion and the subject of death into his poem. The repetition of the first line of the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” is present to emphasize that people should fight death, especially when they have lived hard lives. In between the beginning and last stanzas, Thomas starts each stanza off with a certain type of man that may be dying of old age. He states that “wise men”, “good men”, “wild men”, and “grave men” should protest death because he believes they deserve to live longer. The tone in this poem is dark, because he is discussing death; however there is a subtle tone that is sad. The tone portrays that Thomas is angry for the people who die quietly after suffering through life, which is why he advises people who are of old age to rage against death. To conclude, the form of villanelle in “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” is more emotionally detached from the previous forms of elegy and ballad in the last two poems. However, it is the personal attachment that Thomas added to the form that made this poem have a deeper tone than “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” and “Ballad of Birmingham”.
“To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”, “Ballad of Birmingham”, and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” are all, in their own ways, expressing the subject of death. They are discussing death either about a friend (Dryden), a child (Randall), or a parent (Thomas). Even though they share the same subject, the form of each poem expresses death in different ways, either adding or subtracting to the level of emotional tone. In “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” Dryden presents the form of elegy, which is commonly used to express mourning or grief. This poem had a moderate emotional tone because the poet was only acquaintances with the Mr. Oldham. On the other hand, in “Ballad of Birmingham”, Randall presents the form of ballad, which is usually produced in an easy form to encourage songs. Randall purposely used this form to subtlety use the subject of death. This poem had a deeper and darker emotional tone because of the tragedy and drama in the event of the child’s death. Furthermore, in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, Thomas presents the form of villanelle, which is a more technical form of poetry because of the amount of restraints. Thomas was able to produce emotion to a very detached form of poetry. Even though the subject of each poem is similar, the different aspects of death and the different forms of poetry contrast each poem from the last. To conclude, each type of poetry, whether it is elegy, ballad, or villanelle has the potential to recreate a subject and make it unique to the form presented.