Free Literature Reviews about An Analysis Of The Poem Labor Speaks

November 20, 2020 by Essay Writer

The empowering poem of "Labor Speaks" was composed in 1909 of unknown origin and author. According to the literary-focused website, "What So Proudly We Hail", the poem was popularized by the Industrial Workers of the World (Labor Speaks), a long-standing organization that continues to exist until today, which encourages the organization of worker unions to demand workplace autonomy and improvement of workers' rights. As much as the poem demands for similar values upheld by such organization, "Labor Speaks" vocalizes the contributions of the working class through time and history, and demands fair compensation through boldly overturning entrenched power.

The speaker or the character of the poem is not a person who speaks for himself, but a representative of a larger group who speaks for the united behalf. A common manner of interpreting the poem would be to look into the poet's background and life experience in order to materialize the insights of such a poet's work. However, in the case of "Labor Speaks", there is no known poet which claims possession of the title. Rather, the reader is left with the identity of labor. As asserted in the phrase "I am Labor" (Labor Speaks 20), the character explicitly declares his/her identity, where the implicit characterization of such character of the poem would only lead the reader to freely interpret the nuances and descriptions of such character based on the statements and sentiments expressed in the poem itself.

         Since the character speaks in the first person, there is emphasis about ownership and possession of oneself where it would aid in the reader's understanding of the character. The character's motive is declared in the last line of the poem stating, "I am Labor and I ask for my due." (Labor Speaks 20) only introducing oneself and one's demand at the end, after listing the character's accomplishments while being thrown into submission after contributing majority of the world's progress.

A logical presumption to the strategic placement of the character's introduction would lead one to think that there is extant fear that the character may not be heard if the character reveals  identity at the beginning of the piece. Furthermore, submissive conditions call for the character to place his identity second to his accomplishments.

Moreover, the character is directly speaking to someone to whom the character is in submission towards. The poem is directed towards the executives, business owners, and those who belong to the elitist and capitalist few who control the laborers who toil at their comfort. These are the same people who have continuously entrenched the mechanisms of labor into present society, where they gain majority of their earnings, leaving little to none for their employees.

The line "I am mighty and you are but few," (Labor Speaks 18) is further proof that instead of one character speaking for himself, it is a character speaking for the union of a population or group of individuals. As the character identifies as a master through the line, "I am master of field and of factories," (Labor Speaks 17) such boasts of the character's expertise which the addressee does not possess.

Through anger, the emotional weather of "Labor Speaks" materializes the convictions of laborers. As emphasized in these following lines:

         Wherever there is progress you will find me,

         For the world without me could not live,

         And yet you seek to destroy me

         With the meager pittance you give. (13-16)

These are the only lines in the poem which allows the reader to gauge the emotion of the piece, since the first half of the poem focuses on the achievements of the character, yet an expression of anger could be felt specifically through these lines from 13-16. Where the lines "And yet you seek to destroy me With the meager pittance you give." (Labor Speaks 15-16) encapsulates the reason for such anger.

However, although anger is merely implicitly expressed, interpretation suggests that such emotion laced with vengeance and command for justice is evoked. The character seeks vengeance and justice for his hard work. Specifically, laborers realizing they are in such detrimental circumstances, amidst the progress they have offered to the world that cannot thrive without their vocation.

The heavy utilization of visual and direct imagery draws a vivid picture of the worldly comforts offered by laborers. Overall, the poem sends readers into the labor put towards the progresses of the world, as indicated in the first 12 lines of the poem. The character speaks about how the character built such worldly comforts and luxuries and would it not be for the character, the world would not be able to enjoy such. Specifically, the first four lines dive into the specific products and comforts that laborers have exerted their devotion towards:

         I built your ships and your railroads,

         And worked in your factories and mines;

         I built the good roads that you ride on,

         And crushed your ripe grapes into wine. (1-4)

By bringing the reader into the value of labor towards worldly progress through history, the character emphasizes the value of labor as a means to the progressive end, which is not simply the end in itself. The character commands the reader to recognize the value of things in terms of labor as a vital component of existence.

Contrastingly, although the poem uses direct and visual imagery, certain symbolisms also arise. In the line "I linked two great oceans together," (Labor Speaks 9) that can be embodied through bridges that link oceans and nations together, paving the way for globalization and ease of travel, all due to laborers. The line, "Wherever there is progress you will find me," (Labor Speaks 13) symbolizes the significance of labor towards development where there is more reverence towards the capitalist individuals rather than the group of laborers who have directly poured their time and energy into the worldly progress as a whole. Moreover, the line "For the world without me could not live," (Labor Speaks 14) pertains to all whose lives rely on the products of labor which enable them to survive on this planet.

As the poem culminates, an imperative is commanded by the character. Initially, the lines in the poem merely speak of the character's contributions to worldly progress without mention of conflict or emotions which arise therein. It is only in the line "And yet you seek to destroy me" (Labor Speaks 15) where the character expresses a sense of conflict against to whom he addresses the piece towards, evoking symbolism of the unjust compensation suffered by laborers, especially blue-collar workers who struggle and toil for a small salary. Such is supported in the line "With the meager pittance you give." (Labor Speaks 16) directly expressing low salary as their means of destruction, allowing for the comprehension that the character demands equity.

Ultimately, the poem poses strength in its statements. Laborers have had enough and they seek to demand fair compensation by boldly overturning entrenched power that has allowed for their suffering. However, according to the literature review article by Halker (1991), a complete reconstruction of the "worldview" or "angle of vision" of the American working class may never be possible (Halker 275) since unfortunately, the utilitarian world, which exists today cannot simply be eradicated or swayed in favor of the laborers.                           Furthermore, a thorough investigation into several forms of poetry which discusses labor shows substantial insight into labor protest and laborer's movement as the main focal points of such (Halker 276) where poets emphasize the fact that laborers are the generators of wealth for the specific industry in which they expend their labor towards (Halker 281). Nevertheless, it is imperative for institutions who employ the devotion of these laborers to at least offer adequate and decent reward for these hard work, where their toiling account for the majority of the success of the progress in the world today.

Through the voice of one character representing a group of individuals, a united message of demand through evoking emotional weather of anger has allowed for direct command of equity and just compensation. Although the poet is unknown, he/she was able to utilize direct imagery as well as symbolism which has allowed for a better understanding of the strong message that this poem possesses.

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Works Cited

Halker, Clark. "Jesus was a carpenter: Labor song-poets, labor protest, and true religion in gilded age America." Labor History, 32, 2, 1991, 273-289.

"Labor Speaks." What So Proudly We Hail, What So Proudly We Hail,


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