The choice of words and language in a poem can determine its tone. The two poems that are discussed in this paper are Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane by Etheridge Knight. The choice of language in the two poems differs. However, the tone of each poem is candid. For instance, the first poem by Laurence shows the sarcasm by the author while the second poem displays a tone of arrogance, and fear. When an author intends to showcase a particular tone, certain language can be used. He author may use offensive language. This ensures that the audience receives the message squarely.
The poem by Etheridge shows a lack of concern with regards to the use of offensive terms and words. The author uses the words nigger and shit to show disgust, anger, and contempt (Etheridge 1). The first paragraph portrays a tone of arrogance. The paragraph also shows a tone of authority. When the author states the acts of Hard Rock in the prison, he means to show that he is sure of what he is saying. However, the second paragraph is plagued by a tone of fear, paranoia, and contempt. This is because the author is not sure of what happened to Hard Rock while at hospital. The third paragraph is also full of paranoia, and anxiety. This is because the inmates, as well as the author, do not know how Hard Rock would react once he was unleashed upon the population. The author then goes ahead to remind the reader of the experiences they have had in the past once Hard Rock was released. To some extent, the author is euphoric of the past. The fourth and last paragraphs bring forth a tone of defeat and resignation (Etheridge 1). The words stating that a hillbilly could call Hard Rock a son of a bitch and not lose his teeth are a clear indication of the defeatist tone in the authors choice of words.
The second poem Sympathy is about a bird that keeps flapping its wings. The bird is locked up in a cage. The stage is set up during one early morning. The author tries to relate with the struggles and pain felt by the bird. For instance, the author indicates a tone of apathy, melancholy, and sarcasm through the language expressed in the first paragraph (Paul 1). This is because the author compares the bright situation for the rest of the world to the sorry state of affairs for the bird. Through the second paragraph, the author shows that he is aggravated, frustrated, and resigned. The said tones are plausible because the bird is flapping its wings despite the fact that it will need to perch later (Paul 1). The bird continues to do this until its wings hurt. The third and final paragraph brings out a dreamy, optimistic, vibrant tone. This is because the author understands the absurd actions by the bird. According to the author, the bird is praying to the Heavens. The author believes that through this prayer, the bird can finally receive its freedom.
The tones used in the two poems suit the themes used. The words used in the poem by Etheridge show just how rough and tough Hard Rock must have been before going to hospital. However, the tone changes rapidly upon returning. This is due to a supposed medical procedure. Hard rock does not retaliate as usual, nor does he use foul language on anyone. The contrast brings out the surprise on the faces of his fellow inmates. The theme of prison violence is represented appropriately. The last poem by Laurence uses its language to support a theme of hope. This is achi9eved by using sarcasm at the beginning but completing the poem with a tone of optimism. This goes to show that anything is possible for the caged bird.
Etheridge Knight. Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane. Poetry Foundation. n.p, n.d. Web. 24 September 2015.
Paul L. Dunbar. Sympathy. Poetry Foundation. n.p, n.d. Web. 24 September 2015
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