“When it is finally ours this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful” (Line 1) is one of the many lines in Robert Hayden’s poem “Frederick Douglass”. One of many poems in which Hayden takes events or figures from African American history as his subject. This poem was written as a tribute to Frederick Douglas himself.
One of the very well-known and praised African Americans in the nineteenth century. This is no ordinary poem for Hayden. The “Frederick Douglass” poem is one of those poems that does not possess any type of form. Many have argued the structure of this poem, whether it should even be considered a sonnet. As I was reading this poem, in my opinion this poem is written in an improper sonnet. By improper I mean, “Frederick Douglass” the poem has eighteen syllables and it does stay true to the fourteen line requirement for the form.
A typical sonnet has fourteen lines, a strict rhyme scheme which consist of ten syllables per line and also written in iambic pentameter. Hayden is merely mimicking the form but not in its entirety. Hayden has done a great job in using many different literary techniques to emphasize the work Frederick Douglass has done. These literary techniques consist of similes, imagery and repetition. Hayden’s tribute poem “Frederick Douglass” is not written in a form I have seen before or am familiar with. I have noticed a few thing while reading this poem.
I previously called this poem a sonnet but later realized it just demonstrates a few of those qualities. This poem in particular, yes has fourteen lines but it lacks a rhyme scheme, meter. This poem has eighteen syllables when a typical sonnet poem only has ten per line. The only element that remains the same in the poem is that fact that it meets the fourteen line requirement to even be considered a sonnet.”Frederick Douglass” is not broken into stanzas at all. If you look at the structure of the poem you will notice that it only has one stanza. As I was reading and trying to familiarize myself with this poem I came across this critic who was giving his point of view on this poem as well. M.
Ayodele Heath from mayodeleheath.blogspot.com stated “Hayden’s rhyme scheme deviates from classical sonnet models. While the number of syllables per line varies widely, the number of stressed syllables per line is more consistent. While on one hand Hayden is breaking a particular social order by having only one stanza, deviating from a classical rhyme scheme, and abandoning the iambic pentameter.
Hayden on the other hand is building a new social order through rhetorical devices particularly anaphora”. I didn’t really understand what an anaphora was. After doing extensive reading on anaphora rhetorical device, I had used to the dictionary to found that this specified device suits this poem very well. Anaphora is defined as the repetition of a word or a group of words in the beginning of a sentence to add an emphasis and/or bring clauses together. It is important to understand that the utility of anaphora is most commonly used in poetry to add an artistic effect. Having said that, the opening line of Hayden’s poem is one that demonstrates the perfect example of an anaphoric line.
That line reads “When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful and terrible thing” This type of sentence will fabricate this sort of momentum or effect for the reader. In my opinion this line created this sort of excitement, that line started the poem off really strong. The overall function of anaphora is not only to add emphasis but to create a form of rhythm to make it memorable and pleasing to the audience. The first device that I noticed used was repetition.
Repetition is the act of doing something over and over again. In some cases many authors of poem repeat phrases or word in order to try and get there point across to their readers. For example, “this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful” (Line 1) Robert Hayden repeats the word “this “in his poem emphasizing the words used right after to describe liberty and freedom.
By doing this Hayden is contributing to the theme of trying to get across to his reader how important freedom is. Similes were used in this poem in different ways. Hayden was trying to get the readers to understand what he was trying to say by making some simple comparisons. Similes is a figurative language that is defined as drawing comparisons. An example of a simile in the poem would be “Needful to man as air, useable as earth” (Lines 2-3) Hayden is comparing freedom to air and earth. Hayden is trying to get the reader to understand how important freedom is to a human being.
Freedom and liberty is something that we all should obtain. The last literary technique used in this poem is imagery. Imagery is a mental image.
Hayden states “This man Douglass, this Negro, Beaten to his knees exiled, visioning a world, where none is lonely, none haunted, alien” (Line 7-9). Hayden is trying to get his readers to picture what kind life Douglass had. Douglass has been beaten up and badly mistreated. Douglass mission was to change the world for African Americans to come after him. Hayden’s readers must picture the type of life Douglass foresee his people having, a type of life where they are free and living peacefully. Robert Hayden did an amazing job of commemorating one of the most influential African American abolitionist of the nineteenth century. Robert Hayden points out that liberty and freedom are not just something that we should respect but something that is necessary for a human to love life.
Hayden made really great example to get his reader to understand what freedom would look like and feel. He did this by using many literary techniques such as similes, imagery, and repetition. I finally got somewhat of an understanding of what a sonnet is suppose to look like. I feel like Hayden choose to not fully commit to the sonnet form.
Hayden also made sure that Frederick Douglass legacy remains alive for years to come, “With he lives grown out of his life, the lives fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.” (Line 13-14)