To the Memory of Mr. Oldham, Ballad of Birmingham, and Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night: A Comparative Study on Poetic Forms

July 12, 2022 by Essay Writer

Based on the lessons in this course, it is evident that poems are delivered in various forms, depending on the poets’ situations or experiences. Three poems by Dryden, Randal, and Thomas (“To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”, “Ballad of Birmingham”, and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”) reflect on the subjects of death, loss, and mourning. However the tone and seriousness of emotion differs in each. I believe this contrast is related to the different form each poem has. Dryden’s poem “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” uses the form of elegy to create a poem based on the grief he feels after losing a young, creative friend. Elegy is a form of poetry that is used to help poets place grief into words and thus helping their readers embrace mourning. On the other hand, Randall’s poem ” Ballad of Birmingham” uses the form ballad to describe a dramatic event involving the death of a child. Ballad is a form of poetry that usually outlines tragic, heroic or humorist stories often with a dramatic tone. Lastly, Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” uses the form villanelle to describe how men of old age should not die quietly but rather they should die with dignity and excitement. Villanelle is a very technical, mathematical form of poetry that goes against the convents of English language. These three poets used different forms of poetry to document serious (for some traumatic) situations based on or ending with death. Dryden, Randall, and Thomas use elegy, ballad, and villanelle and combined them with the subject of death to add emotion to their poems.

The similarities between all three poems lie in the subject matter of death. In “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”, Dryden reminisces in the short memories he had with his fellow poet, John Oldham. After the death of Oldham, Dryden realizes that even though they were not strong friends and even though Oldham was young, he was still aware of his literary promise. In the poem Dryden states that Oldham’s work would have benefitted if he had lived longer. The tone in this poem is “lighter”, especially when mentioning the subject of death. The amount of grief and mourning Dryden outlined in this poem was appropriate, due to the fact of their friendship being new.

In “Ballad of Birmingham” Randall, too, discusses the subject of death and loss between and mother and her child. “Ballad of Birmingham” ends with a young girl being killed at church, which was supposed to be a safe place from the march. This poem is an example of cruel irony in death. The child’s death was ironic because she was ordered to attend church where it was supposed to be safe, but ends up dying there. The tone in this poem is similar to Dryden because it discusses how people feel after someone is lost. Although, due to how the child dies, the subject matter for this poem is more tragic than Dryden’s.

Lastly, Thomas discusses death in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” based on how people die at an old age. He states that when elder people die while sleeping it stripes them of their dignity. He believes that dying should be an exciting, traumatic event. We learn at the end of the poem that Thomas is personally referencing his own dying father when stating that people should fight death, not embrace it. Because Thomas is talking about his own father, the tone of this poem is more personal than the previous two. While each poem shares the subject of death, they differ in the aspect of death. In each poem a person is either experiencing someone who is dead (being dead in “To the Memory of Mr.Oldham”), someone who has just died (death in “Ballad of Birmingham”), or someone who is dying (the process before death in “Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night). In addition, all three poems contrast on the form and the methods used to enhance emotion in the subject of death.

Dryden used elegy to emphasis mourning and grief in “To the Memory of Mr.Oldham”. Elegatic poems are used to outline the emotion in grief for the poets and the readers. An elegy can be seen as a form of eulogy because the experiences and memories of the deceased are usually highly discussed, like at a funeral. “To the Memory of Mr.Oldham” is an appropriate example of an elegatic poem because Dryden discusses how promising Oldham was and that it was disappointing to see him die at a young age. The rhyming couplets demonstrated in the poem relate to the type of relationship Dryden had with Oldham. They possess an appropriate range of tones that are adequate for this type of elegy. The clever end rhyme couplets highlight that they were only minor friends. However, his tone included just enough despair for us to understand that he would have liked more out of the friendship. This poem is an elegy based on two different characteristics. First, it is an elegy because Dryden reflects on the loss of John Oldham. Secondly, it is an elegy because Dryden discusses how John Oldham was a loss to the literary world, specifically speaking about his work. To conclude, this poem is an elegy because Dryden writes about someone (Mr. Oldham) and something (John Oldham’s contribution to the literary world) that he lost after Oldham’s death.

In “Ballad of Birmingham”, Randall used the form ballad for the subject of death. This form of poetry differs from Dryden’s approach to the subject of death because ballad’s usually document more tragic events. This poem is an example of the traditional ballad because it deals with the theme of tragedy leading to a dramatic conclusion. The theme is tragedy because the mother sends her child to church, thinking that it was the safest option, only to hear an explosion from the same church. The conclusion is dramatic because the mother hurries to the church only to find the white shoe that belonged to her daughter. I believe that Randall chose the form ballad due to lack of intimidation. Ballad’s are not difficult to follow (since they are usually sung), and using the form helps the message across easier. Thus, it quickly becomes popular and delivered from person to person. Randall used the ballad to write about the subject of death with the intention that it would be widely distributed. He wanted people to know about the horrors that took place in Birmingham, which lead to the deaths of innocent children. The dark tone in this poem is subtle but necessary when using a ballad because the themes are always dramatic and tragic. To conclude the emotion Randall’s choice of form for his poem is more emotional than Dryden’s because it involves tragic (the death of a child) and dramatic (the violence of the explosion of the church) events.

Compared to the other two poems, the form of villanelle in Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” are much more technical and difficult to add emotion. While the elegy and ballad require emotion as a characteristic, the villanelle requires rhyme and repetition. Villanelle is a fixed poem form using five tersests (three-lined stanzas) and one quatrain (four-lined stanzas) only allowing the use of two different rhyme sounds throughout. “Do Not Go Gentle in That Good Night” is a perfect example of a villanelle because it remains within the constraints of the structure. He uses the rhyme scheme ABA ABA ABA, throughout the poem and while only using two rhyme sounds (night, day, light, right, they, night, bright, bay, light, etc.). While mastering this complicated poem form, Thomas also managed to incorporate emotion and the subject of death into his poem. The repetition of the first line of the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” is present to emphasize that people should fight death, especially when they have lived hard lives. In between the beginning and last stanzas, Thomas starts each stanza off with a certain type of man that may be dying of old age. He states that “wise men”, “good men”, “wild men”, and “grave men” should protest death because he believes they deserve to live longer. The tone in this poem is dark, because he is discussing death; however there is a subtle tone that is sad. The tone portrays that Thomas is angry for the people who die quietly after suffering through life, which is why he advises people who are of old age to rage against death. To conclude, the form of villanelle in “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” is more emotionally detached from the previous forms of elegy and ballad in the last two poems. However, it is the personal attachment that Thomas added to the form that made this poem have a deeper tone than “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” and “Ballad of Birmingham”.

“To the Memory of Mr. Oldham”, “Ballad of Birmingham”, and “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” are all, in their own ways, expressing the subject of death. They are discussing death either about a friend (Dryden), a child (Randall), or a parent (Thomas). Even though they share the same subject, the form of each poem expresses death in different ways, either adding or subtracting to the level of emotional tone. In “To the Memory of Mr. Oldham” Dryden presents the form of elegy, which is commonly used to express mourning or grief. This poem had a moderate emotional tone because the poet was only acquaintances with the Mr. Oldham. On the other hand, in “Ballad of Birmingham”, Randall presents the form of ballad, which is usually produced in an easy form to encourage songs. Randall purposely used this form to subtlety use the subject of death. This poem had a deeper and darker emotional tone because of the tragedy and drama in the event of the child’s death. Furthermore, in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”, Thomas presents the form of villanelle, which is a more technical form of poetry because of the amount of restraints. Thomas was able to produce emotion to a very detached form of poetry. Even though the subject of each poem is similar, the different aspects of death and the different forms of poetry contrast each poem from the last. To conclude, each type of poetry, whether it is elegy, ballad, or villanelle has the potential to recreate a subject and make it unique to the form presented.

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