Ballad of Birmingham
In the poem Ballad of Birmingham, by Dudley Randall, written in 1969, Mr.
Randall uses of irony to describes the events of the mothers decision, and also
her concern for the welfare of her darling little child. It seems odd that this
child would even know what a freedom march is, but this would be considered
normal back in the early 1960’s, when Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. had rallies and
freedom marches to free the African American people from discrimination and
segregation (Hunter 6). It also seems very ironic that the young child is acting
like an adult in this particular situation (Hunter 12). I think the mother would
be the one who would want to got to the march to free her people, not the child.
In the poem “Ballad of Birmingham”, by Dudley Randall, written in 1969, Mr.
Randall uses tone and irony to describe the events of the mothers decisions, and
as well as her concern for her child’s well being.
In the first stanza irony is used in order to make
reading the poem more interesting. The situation in this first stanza is also
very important. The little child is in a desperate situation and wants to help
better the lives of the African Americans. Randall also focuses on specific
culture here. The speaker is allowing the reader to make a mental picture of one
specific march in Birmingham (Hunter 17). But, you know as well as I, that with
peace marches and rallies comes violence and hostility. This is exactly what the
little girls mother is afraid of, this is why she will not let her go to the
march. It also seems weird that her mother is so sure that going to church,
instead of going to the march, will be the best thing for her. (Hunter 19-20).
Typically, a church is to be a very safe and sacred place where no-one would
imagine a bombing or any other type of violence to happen. What is ironic about
this is that going to church turns out to be the worst place for her to be
(Hunter 21). Something else that strikes me funny is that her mother dresses her
in her daughter in her best clothes to go to church with her. What is ironic
here is that she ended up wearing them to her funeral instead (Hunter 26). There
is also a shift in dialogue here in the fifth stanza(Hunter 27). Here the
narrator starts to take over. The narrator’s tone shows the reader the pride and
joy that the mother takes in her child’s appearance (Hunter 29). It also gives
the reader some sense of reassurance and cleanliness as the mother is brushing
her daughters night-dark hair. She also dresses her in the same fashion (Hunter
36). She tries to dress her all in white, which is the symbol for purity. But no
matter how hard the mother tries to have her daughter conform to the “whites”,
they are ultimately the ones who kill her (Hunter 41).
Something else that is ironic comes about in the sixth
stanza. The mother smiled to know her child was in the sacred place, but that
smile was the last smile to come upon her face. This gives the reader a sense of
what is about to happen(Hunter 44). This stanza is ironic because if the mother
thinks her daughter is going to be in a safe place, why would this be the last
time she would ever smile?
The figures of speech that Randall uses in this poem
also give the poem a touch of irony. He uses two types of figures of speech, and
he uses them very well. First, he uses the metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of
speech in which one thing is likened to another, different thing by being spoken
of as if it were that other; implied comparison. He uses this in stanza five to
hint to the reader that the child is an African American female(Hunter 47). He
also uses it in stanza seven to show how angry, afraid and worried her mother
gets when she hears the explosion. The other figure of speech that Randall uses
is repetition. He uses the saying, “No, baby, no, you may not go”, in stanza two
and then again in stanza four. This saying expresses the worries and fear that
the mother has for her little girl.
Another big factor in this poem is the use of tone.
First, there is a tone of innocence in the first stanza (Hunter 51). The young
child tries to act nice and innocent to her mother, in the case that her mother
might let her go to the march(Hunter 55). Secondly, there is the tone of concern
for her child’s safety. Her mother tells her that there are dogs, clubs and
hoses. These things were used on protesters and marchers to control the crowds
when they grew too large and had gotten out of hand. Next, there is the tone of
joy in the fifth stanza and in the first half of the sixth stanza. Her mother
takes pride and joy in getting her daughter ready to go to church. She is also
joyful that her daughter is going to church instead of going to the march
But, if you notice, in the seventh stanza that tone of
joy immediately turns to grief and loneliness. The move from the sixth to the
seventh stanza is when the explosion occurs(Hunter 64). The mother doesn’t know
what to do. The mothers tone in the last two lines of the poem gives the reader
a feeling of grief and guilt. The word baby the mother uses implies the mothers
affection for her lost daughter. I don’t know how, but for some reason her
mother feels that something has happened to her child, so she runs through the
streets of Birmingham, Alabama calling for her child. She clawed through bits of
glass and brick, then lifted out her child’s shoe. From this finding the mother
knows that she has lost her daughter forever. In conclusion, I personally think
that this poem was well written for the simple fact that Randall is not afraid
to confront the problems that these two races had between them. He describes
things that had happened in this time period to get his point across vividly to
the reader. With that said, I leave you with one last question: If her mother
had let her go to the march like she asked, would she still be alive?