Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Poetry Analysis: James Russell Lowell’s “Stanzas on Freedom”

The poet James Russell Lowell in “Stanzas on Freedom”(1843) addresses Men in general rendering the issue of slavery a universal one. Lowell was an abolitionist throughout his life.’Ye’ is the plural of the pronoun of the second person in the nominative case. He makes a request to the collective consciousness of the people. They boast of being born to fathers brave and free. The poet poses a rhetorical question, where the answer is implied in the question itself: “Are ye truly free and brave?” The chain of slavery is not a physical one, therefore you do not perceive it. One can only experience it through the pain of a brother. If you do not experience the same, then you are the baser slave imprisoned in the chains of callousness and cowardice as you allow for slavery to exist.

Women! who shall one day bear
Sons to breathe New England air,
If ye hear, without blush,
Deeds to make the roused blood rush
Like red lava through your veins,
For your sisters now in chains—
Answer! are ye fit to be
Mother of the brave and free?
Women are also equally responsible in abolishing the vicious circle of slavery. They enable the circle of procreation, give birth to sons who breath the air of New England. They possess the capacity to ‘hear’ deeds without (blushing)emotions overcoming them. They should have the capacity to be inspired by deeds into actions.’red’ is the colour of fiery passion and the symbol of lava evokes images of revolutionary eruptions. The command “Answer” acts not only as an imperative; it is a reminder to women to be answerable to their sisters. This is the prerequisite to be deemed fit to be termed “Mother of the brave and free”.

Is true freedom but to break
Fetters for our own dear sake,
And, with leathern hearts, forget
That we owe mankind a debt?
No! true freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear,
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!

The meaning of true freedom lies in breaking shackles for one’s own dear(‘s) sake. These shackles are emblematic of the restraint and constraints imposed by the oppressor. The cowardly heart is described as ‘leathern heart’ comprised of animal hide that does not possess human concern. Freedom in the real sense of the word is not only meant for only the individual or a specific group of people, but is meant for everyone of mankind . The poet makes an earnest appeal to his fellow-beings to make others free “with heart and hand”, that is in feeling and practice.

They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing , and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be

In the right with two or three. People are slaves if they are scared to speak for others that are too weak to do it themselves.People are deemed slaves if they are reluctant to speak for others who are in a weaker position to do it themselves. People are also slaves if they deter from speaking because of rejection, ridicule or abuse. Such people reconsider the truth and prefer to seek refuge in silence. And more significantly, people are slaves if they are scared to be in the minority by uttering the truth.

© Rukhaya MK 2012
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  1. I recently read the third stanza of this poem quoted by ML King in a sermon. I could not understand the middle of the stanza regarding those who would avoid hateful consequences of speaking out by choosing to be silent about what they knew to be true. Thank you for enlightening me, friend. Peace to you.

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