Ballad Birmingham an Explication of Poem Ballad Essay

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Ballad Birmingham

An explication of poem "Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall

An explication of poem "Ballad Birmingham" by Dudley Randall

The current essay is an explication of the poem "Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall. Dudley wrote this poem in 1965 after reflecting on the incident of Ballad Birmingham Church dynamite that occurred on September 15, 1963. The poem is in context of African-American freedom movement of 1960s when African-Americans were fighting for their identity in the United States. This freedom movement was a fight against the laws of America that prevent African-Americans to play a part in the society. (Robyn, 138). The author has explained in details the story of the poem, the symbols used in the poem, the structure and setting of the poem as well as the message that Dudley wants to convey through this poem.

Thesis Statement

The general insinuations in the form of an illustration as well as the title of the poem indicate that the poem has used a tragic event in a same way like those of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century melancholic broadsides to expand on the spiritual values of the society. The poem has followed the tradition of basing broadside on breathtaking disasters and crimes. In this background the tragic end of the story is evident from 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?"

"Ballad of Birmingham" has been written on the topic of social justice and is based on a real incident. In this poem, Randall has established racial advancement as being of embryonic, as he narrates the occurrence of bombing on church by white terrorists. All the eight stanzas depict a conflict between mother and her child in the context of freedom movement.

This poem has used the ballad conference of the innocent questioner (childe) and the wiser respondent (mother). This pattern is same as of the "Lord Randall" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci," but the object of knowledge is different i.e. from fate to racial politics. The child here is straight innocent whereas the mother is aware of the violence hidden in the political moment:

"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"


Ballad of Birmingham is a poem written by Dudley Randall (1914-2000) an African-American poet. The poem was first published by Dudley's own publishing house as a single sheet of paper (a "broadside") and after that it was included in his 24-pages poetry collection book (Booker T. And W.E.B) that was published in 1966. While going through the poem, the reader finds several different ideas. From the initial lines it seems that the poet is going to reveal a human character as is evident from the mother too cautious to not to let her baby go.

The poem begins with the daughter asking her mother to let her go to attend a civil rights convention but the mother is fearful and does not allow her to attend the rally but allows her to go to church where she dies anyway. Thus, the poet describes that there is no refuge anywhere in this evil world not even in the places of prayer. Randall here seems to say that one has to face fear in the street as well as in the church.

Mother dear, may I go downtown

Instead of out to play,

And March the streets of Birmingham

In a Freedom March Today?"

Though the mother refuses child's request but she believes that church is a place where there is no fear of racial haltered that is why she recommend her baby that she "may go to church instead, / And sing in the children's choir." But still finally the fear of the intimidation leaves her disenchanted;

"The mother smiled to know her child

Was in a sacred place,

But that smile was the last smile

To come upon her face"

Because when she came to know of the bombing;

"Her eyes grew wet and wild

She raced through the streets of Birmingham

Calling for her child"

The poem is in fact a conflict between a mother and her child. The child want to go out and take part in the rally and the mother is only cautious about her daughter's safety because she is aware of the political violence that is a part of such conventions. All through the poem the daughter seems to be eager of going with the people fighting for independence and the mother is convincing her not to go there and participate in children choir at church instead because of her fear that the participation will be dangerous for her.

It is apparent that the girl is anxious about the happening around her country as well as the march and is desirous of taking part in the movement. The expression of this desire by the girl shows her maturity and awareness of the world around her. Through the child the poet has symbolized all the young people who want to fight for their independence.

On the other side mother has been shown considering herself mature enough to decide what is best for her child. It is clear that she does not taker her daughter's wish seriously and the way she treats her child and convinces her to go to church is a proof that she consider the desire to go to march is jus a childish fancy. The mother's behavior in the situation is an irrational fear and based on her illusions that she has made about March and rallies

The mother's objectivity and optimism directs her to suppose that as compared to March and rallies church is safer where she can send her child without any fear. She believes that once entered into the door of the church the child will be safe from the violent world around her... This attitude also shows her conviction that she and her child can remain safe by neglecting and not participating into the civil unrest. By advising her daughter to go to church she is actually showing her feeling that it is important to attend the church and the problems that are emerging outside the church need no further effort to resolve.

While to send the child to church the mother brushes her hair, bathes her, and puts white shoes and gloves on her. All these efforts reveal that she is creating an image of peace and beauty and that she has no concern with the independence movement and she is trying to forget about all the hardships of this independence movement that other people are facing. By forbidding her child to participate in the March and go instead going to church she feels that she has concealed all the fearful thought and risks under this facade. What actually the mother in the poem is concerned is that she wants to be relaxed run away from the disturbing thoughts that her child is in danger from the not just the world around her but also from her own longing to be part of these troubles.

The story has a tragic end as the girl dies and also the faith of the mother regarding the limits of racial hatred and violence as she is left fascinate amongst the "bits of glass and brick,."

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,

Then lifted out a shoe.

"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,

But, baby, where are you?"

While looking at the story told in the poem the reader comes to know of the fact that poet is making effort to tell a convoluted story by using few words. In this poem the poet has described a wonderful story which shows the love of a mother for her child, a child's desire to participate in the struggle for freedom and her sacrifice of her wish by going to church instead of rally and finally the sadness of the mother when she came to know about her child died in the bombing on church.

Explicating the poem I have observed its structure which has 8 different topics: speaker, setting, occasion, tone, rhyme, and meter, number of lines and stanzas, and language of the poem.

Speaker and Setting: The speaker in the poem is a mother and her child, the setting is in their house might be the same room, and the occasion is that the child wants to go out somewhere but mother is frightened to allow her and is considering a place that is safer for her to go.

Tone of the Poem: This poem has a tone that child want to go to the Ballad of Birmingham Church and the mother is stopping the child but the tone changes in the end into sadness.

Rhyme Scheme: Rhyme is the terms which means the repetition of words that have same sound and the Ballad of Birmingham…[continue]

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