“Frederick Douglass” by Robert Hayden

Robert Hayden was the first African-American to be appointed Consultant of Poetry to the Library of Congress.  He is known for his elegant poetic style, and focuses on black historical experiences.  Hayden extensively studied American and African-American history, a thread that is highly woven in his poems about slavery, freedom, and abolitionists, including a poem devoted to Frederick Douglass.  In this poem, Hayden is praising Douglass while predicting the effects of his great abolitionist work in the future, stating clearly, “this man shall be remembered”.  Glorifying Douglass as an ideal figure and highlighting his suffering in order to achieve success, Hayden creates an image of Douglass that is honorable.


By Robert Hayden

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful

and terrible thing, needful to man as air,

usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,

when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,

reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more

than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:

this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro

beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world

where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,

this man, superb in love and logic, this man

shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,

not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,

but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives

fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.


(Robert Hayden, The Poetry Foundation)


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