Freedom and Form

Freedom and Form

Robert Hayden’s Powerful Poem On Race in the USA In thinking about how form can be manipulated to serve a poem’s meaning, I remembered Robert Hayden’s poem, ‘Frederick Douglas’. This poem ruminates over the freedoms African Americans are yet to receive in America (published in 1966). A 14 line poem with a rhetorical turn and … Continue reading Freedom and Form

25 May 2017  //  Remi Graves


Robert Hayden’s Powerful Poem On Race in the USA

In thinking about how form can be manipulated to serve a poem’s meaning, I remembered Robert Hayden’s poem, ‘Frederick Douglas’. This poem ruminates over the freedoms African Americans are yet to receive in America (published in 1966). A 14 line poem with a rhetorical turn and subtle half rhyme throughout, it could be viewed as a manipulation of the sonnet. But its lyricism means it also reads as an ode to freedom. And the unrelenting fervour adds a feeling of sermonising. All of this to say the poem plays out a tension between liberty and constraint in its structure AND content! And it’s magic :O

Read the poem below, how does repetition add meaning? How can you play with the sonnet form to discuss your own ideas of freedom?


Frederick Douglass

 

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   

reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   

this man, superb in love and logic, this man   

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.

 

Robert Hayden, 1966

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