What is the structure, or traditional closed form, of "Ballad of Birmingham"?

2 Answers | Add Yours

susan3smith's profile pic

susan3smith | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

Since we are only allowed to answer one question at a time, I had to edit your question.

"The Ballad of Birmingham," by Dudley Randall, is based on the traditional English folk ballad.  It has many of the components of a ballad:  it tells a story, it concerns events that most people are aware of, it is written in a simple, easy to understand style.  Further, like many English ballads, it uses a question/answer format, at least in the first four stanzas.    The daughter questions the mother and the mother responds.  We see this form in other ballads such as "Lord Randall."

Even its poetic structure is that of a ballad:  four-line stanzas with the second and fourth lines rhyming.

The poem's structure produces a highly ironic and shocking ending showing that in a racist world there are no safe places for children.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It is reasonable to consider that the lyrical nature of the ballad appealed to Dudley Randall since traditionally African and African-American history has been recorded orally and the tribulations of the people sung in spirituals and blues songs. As a ballad Randall's "Ballad of Birmingham" is composed of eight quatrain stanzas with the second and fourth lines rhyming. Most of the lines contain four stresses, as is traditional for a ballad.

This ballad tells a tragic story of the ironic refusal of a girl's mother who would not allow her small daughter to march in the streets of Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement. Instead, she sends her girl to church, thinking there she will be safe. However, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed. The motive behind the bombing was the fact that this large church in downtown Birmingham served as the headquarters for civil rights rallies with such as the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, author of Project C, to help with the desegregation campaign. 

Much like the spirituals and Blues, the Randall's ballad is very poignant in its tragic story of the innocent girl's dying.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,  [four stresses]
But, baby, where are you?" [shoe and you rhyme--2nd and 4th lines]


We’ve answered 318,050 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question