Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "Frederick Douglass". How are Douglass' efforts in the struggle for the freedom of the Afro-American people epitomized?

Term Paper, 2016

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3






Formal features of the poem Frederick Douglass

How specific features mirror Douglass' efforts 6 for African American people's liberty



The Poem Frederick Douglass by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Both Frederick Douglass and Paul Laurence Dunbar were significantly important persons with regard to their achievements for African American people. This holds for the literary impact, as well as for their political and social relevance. The aim of this term-paper about the poem Frederick Douglass by Paul Laurence Dunbar is supposed to reveal that its formal features point out the ambition, Douglass displayed in his struggle to fight for the equal rights for black people. The choice to have a close look at this specific poem, was made because the two men are both of African American descent, parts of Douglass' profession resemble Dubar's, as they both were writers and the men knew each other. Furthermore, it is a tribute to Douglass and his achievements in the Abolitionist Movement. This is why this poem is of such an interest and importance. This term-paper is composed of an objective analysis of the poem, followed by a connective part, in which the most striking formal features are linked to the relevant historical background. In the first part, the focus therefore is on examining the structure of the poem with all its stylistic and rhetorical devices. To achieve a suitable overview, this examination is done stanza by stanza. It is supposed to provide a dispassionate look on the poem. As this section only is concerned with the poem itself, there is no regard to research-literature. In the next chapter the paper then deals with the references, the poem Frederick Douglass suggests. At this point, the already disclosed formal features are reconsidered with their specific link to genuine occurrences in the life of Douglass. Therefore selected secondary literature is provided and enwrought in this chapter. This approach allows a more detailed and structured view and therefore supports the understanding of how Dunbar's poem is interwoven by the efforts, Douglass took for his race.

For this purpose, this work is mainly based on research literature from Chesebrough's Frederick Douglass: oratory from slavery. Additionally, excerpts from Stauffer's The Cambridge Companion to Frederick Douglass are vital for some reflections in this term- paper.

To complete this seminar-paper, it ends with a conclusion, consisting of reflecting Dunbar's most important statements about Douglass and the appreciation and honor, he bestows on him, which are indicated by the formal features of the poem.

Formal features of the poemFrederick Douglass

In this chapter the issue of formal features is highlighted. How did Dunbar structure his poem and what rhetoric devices did he use? The aim of this section is to provide an overview of these stylistic devices, Dunbar employs to show his respect and admiration to Douglass, who himself was a very talented and successful speaker and writer with the ability to phrase statements purposefully and directed. Furthermore it filters the most striking elements, to establish a basis on which the following, analytic chapter can be constructed.

The poem Frederick Douglass by Paul Laurence Dunbar consists of 10 stanzas with six verses each, except for the last one. Here eight verses are to find. The first nine verses are constructed through an alternating rhyme, followed by a rhyming couplet. The 10th stanza begins as well with an alternating rhyme and is closed by two rhyming couplets. The whole poem is written in an iambic pentameter.

The first stanza is built up around several antitheses. A hush (v.1), which is almost synonym to silence, is confronted with the adjective teeming (v.1), which has an oppositional meaning. The same phenomenon can be observed in the second verse. Breath-space (v.2) and stifle (v.2) are two expressions that are not compatible. The words sun (v.4) and mist (v.3) also exclude each other. Where one is present, the other one cannot be. Another striking rhetoric device is the metaphor sun of life (v.4). It is part of the figurative language, Dunbar uses and which is one red thread, showing up throughout the whole poem. This as well holds true for personifications. In this case Ethiopia (v.5) is given properties, normally only human are provided with, as Ethiopia is able to lament (v.6) something.

The second stanza begins with an anaphora (She v.7; She v.8), followed by the metaphor burning tears (v.8). The first two verses depict a parallelism, as their grammatical structure is identical. Furthermore remarkable in this stanza are the words Bondage, Hope and Trust (v.11,12), which are, except for the beginning of each verse, the only expressions in capital letters. Therefore an enormous importance is attributed to them. This is underlined by the fact, that Bondage is personified. But what this special meaning is, will be explored in the next chapter of this term-paper.

Moving on to stanza three, it is outstanding, that metaphors are used a repeatedly in verse 15 (bow of power). Employing this metaphor, Dunbar opens a lexical field, including the expressions bow, arrow and den (v.15,16), which all are related semantically. In addition, a capitalization of the word Oppression (v.17) can be observed in the poem Frederick Douglass. This shows, that it is as well of specific interest and weight for the poem and its context.

In the next stanza we can yet perceive two lexical fields. One dealing with weather conditions (sunlight, mist, cloud v.21,22) and the other one with negative connoted words (dark, sin, crime, evil v.22-24). The weather metaphor will reoccur later on.

The fifth stanza then is, like the first one, opened up around an antithesis, expressed through good and ill (v.25), even supported by the usage of the verb cleaved (v.25), in which the impact of discrepancy is already inherent. The emblematic and figurative way of describing continues in this stanza, as Dunbar employs metaphors like lash of scorn (v.28) and sting of petty spites (v.28). Moreover, the weather-symbolism is picked up again (thunder and lightening v.29,30). The last two verses are also as well linguistically significant as semantically and find consideration in the next section.

The verses one and two of the sixth stanza are connected through an enjambement, which serves as a link between torrent wrath (v.31) and furious imprecations (v.32). Those expressions belong together to build a hyperbole, because in connection they tend to exaggerate the described situation. The stanza is closed with the antithesis constructed with the help of mighty (v.36) and small (v.36), which have oppositional meanings.

The seventh stanza provides again one of the most frequently used and striking rhetoric devices: a personification. In this case, kindness (v.38) has human properties as it is able to move. In the following verse, an enumeration is combined with an enjambement. All these listed elements reveal a connection, which is to be pointed out in the next chapter. Continuing with stanza eight, the capitalization of the significant expressions Freedom (v.45) and Right (v.45) is conducted. Furthermore, Dunbar avails himself of the continual rhetoric device, the metaphor, in verse 48. In this case the word armor cannot be taken literally. Another striking feature in this stanza is the exclamation-mark, which closes the it.

The last but one stanza provides a change of the pronouns. Throughout the first eight stanzas an enormous usage of the pronouns him (cf. v.7), he (cf. v.9) and his (cf. v.13) can be observed. These third person singular pronouns shift in the eighth stanza to the first person plural we (v.49), us (v.53) and our (v.54). Moreover, the same phenomenon as already mentioned for armor (v.8), can be assigned to the expression current (v.51), which can only be understood in the context of this poem. A special emphasis is as well attributed to the last verse of this stanza, as it end with an exclamation-mark, too.

In the last stanza, Dunbar addresses Douglass directly (Oh, Douglass v.55). Furthermore, another change of pronouns precedes. In the tenth stanza, the pronouns thou (v.55) and thy (v.56) are used, instead of we (v.49) and our (v.54). Moreover, a metaphor is to be observed, because the expression gale (v.56) has a different meaning in the context of the poem. Finally, Dunbar picks up the pronoun she (v.59,60), to refer back to Ethiopia (v.5) and to recreate the personification from the beginning.

Concluding, it is to mention, that throughout the whole poem, Dunbar uses an enormous amount of adjectives (cf. teeming, bleeding, fearless, torrent v.1,11,13,31). This contributes to the figurative language, loaded with imagery, Dunbar already established by the usage of many metaphors.


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Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "Frederick Douglass". How are Douglass' efforts in the struggle for the freedom of the Afro-American people epitomized?
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel
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paul, laurence, dunbar, frederick, douglass, afro-american
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Anonymous, 2016, Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "Frederick Douglass". How are Douglass' efforts in the struggle for the freedom of the Afro-American people epitomized?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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