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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.
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)
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