Monday, February 22, 2010

Southey: The Serious vs. The Song

Adding on to Sam's comment below,... although I agree that Southey is making a very serious commentary on the horrors of slavery, the style in which he writes the poem seems to refute this. Undoubtedly, the words of visual imagery such as "anguish," "crime," and "cursed," show the serious remorse that the sailor feels for his participation in the slave trade, the way in which the poem is read (or more likely recited) is in a very sing-songy jilt. To me, this seems to be a contrast between the gravity of the subject matter and the playfulness of the style. Perhaps, Southey is using this specific style to appeal to a wider audience, and portray the harsh and cruel reality of the slave trade to an otherwise oblivious audience, in need of enlightening...


  1. I think part of it has to do with the style simply being one of the more common at the time Southey was writing. Also, though, recall the history of other such ballads; last week's poems are perfect examples. Not to mention fairy-tales were all had very dark, underlying currents in them for the longest time. A lighter layer upon a harsher image is really a classic way of showing the true horrors or injustice of a situation without directly putting anyone off.

  2. To add to Alec's comment, ballad meter is very flexible, and can encompass many styles. For example, ballad meter is often used in hymns, and thus performed at a much slower tempo. Think about what it means to sing Southey's poem to the tune of Gilligan's Island versus what it feels like when it is set to "Amazing Grace."