“When it is finally ours this freedom, this liberty, thisbeautiful” (Line 1) is one of the many lines in Robert Hayden’s poem “FrederickDouglass”. One of many poems in which Hayden takes events or figures fromAfrican American history as his subject. This poem was written as a tribute toFrederick Douglas himself. One of the very well-known and praised AfricanAmericans in the nineteenth century. This is no ordinary poem for Hayden. It iswritten in an improper sonnet.
By improper I mean, sonnets are usually fourteenlines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, which typically has tensyllables per line. Hayden has done a great job in using many differentliterary techniques to emphasize the work Frederick Douglass has done. Theseliterary techniques consist of similes, imagery and also repetition. Hayden’s tribute poem “Frederick Douglass” is notwritten in a form I have seen before or am familiar with. I have noticed a fewthing while reading this poem. I previously called this poem a sonnet but laterrealized it just demonstrates a few of those qualities. This poem inparticular, yes has fourteen lines but it lacks a rhyme scheme, meter.
Thispoem has eighteen syllables when a typical sonnet poem only has ten. Haydenretains the line requirement for a sonnet, which is perhaps the only element hekeeps. Hayden’s stanza construction adheres neither to the Petrarchan nor theShakespearean archetypes. Rather in an outright defiance of the form, Hayden’s”Frederick Douglass” is not broken into stanzas at all. Hayden’s rhymescheme deviates from classical sonnet models. While the number of syllables perline varies widely, the number of stressed syllables per line is moreconsistent.
While on one hand Hayden is breaking a particular social order byhaving only one stanza, deviating from a classical rhyme scheme, and abandoningthe iambic pentameter. Hayden on the other hand is building a new social orderthrough rhetorical devices particularly anaphora. After doing extensive readingon anaphora rhetorical device, I found that this specific device suits thispoem very well.
Anaphora is defined as the repetitionof a word or a group of words in the beginning of a sentence to add anemphasis and/or bring clauses together. It is important to understand that theutility of anaphora is most commonly used in poetry to add an artistic effect.With that being said, the opening anaphoric, “When itis finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful and terrible thing”creates a momentum which will sustain this sentence for eleven lines. The nextclause in this sentence switches the anaphora from “this” to “when it”.
Theoverall function of anaphora is not only to add emphasis but to create a formof rhythm to make it memorable and pleasing to the audience. Similes were used in this poem is different ways. Haydenwas trying to get the readers to understand what he was trying to say by makingsome simple comparisons.
Similes is a figurative language that is defined asdrawing comparisons. An example of a simile in the poem would be “Needful toman as air, useable as earth” (Lines 2-3) Hayden is comparing freedom to airand earth. Hayden is trying to get the reader to understand how importantfreedom is to a human being. Freedom and liberty is something that we allshould obtain. The next literary technique used in this poem is imagery.Imagery is a mental image. Hayden states “This man Douglass, this Negro, Beatento 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 kindlife Douglass had. Douglass has been beaten up and badly mistreated and hisdoesn’t want that for the African Americans to come after him. Hayden’s readersmust picture the type of life Douglass foresee his people having, a type oflife where they are free and living peacefully. The last technique used is repetition. Repetition is theact of doing something over and over again.
In some cases many authors of poemrepeat phrases or word in order to try and get there point across to theirreaders. For example, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful” (Line 1)Robert Hayden repeats the word “this “in his poem emphasizing the words usedright after to describe liberty and freedom. By doing this Hayden iscontributing to the theme of trying to get across to his reader how importantfreedom is. Robert Hayden did an amazing job of commemorating one of themost influential African American abolitionist of the nineteenth century.
Robert Hayden points out that liberty and freedom are not just something thatwe should respect but something that is necessary for a human to love life.Hayden made use really great example to get his reader to understand whatfreedom would look like and feel. He did this by using many literary techniquessuch as similes, imagery, and repetition. Hayden also made sure that FrederickDouglass legacy will still remain alive for years to come, “With he lives grownout of his life, the lives fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.”(Line 13-14)