Analyze the form and poetic elements used in "If We Must Die."

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The poem "If We Must Die" was published in 1919 in response to a series of racially motivated attacks and riots. The poem implores African Americans to reclaim their humanity and their dignity and fight back against their oppressors.

The poem has fourteen lines, which indicates that its form is a sonnet, which seems unusual given that a sonnet is a poem about love and this poem is essentially a call to arms. However, the sonnet form is appropriate in that the speaker is imploring African Americans to love themselves, and to consider their blood "precious." The speaker wants African Americans to no longer accept being treated like animals, to reclaim their humanity, and to love themselves enough to fight back.

The poem also has the rhyme scheme typical of a sonnet. The first twelve lines follow an alternating rhyme scheme, whereby every other line rhymes, and the last two lines form a rhyming couplet. The effect of the rhyming couplet is to suggest a sense of closure, which is fitting because the speaker is suggesting that only by fighting back will African Americans achieve any sense of closure to their current situation.

The poem is also written in iambic pentameter, meaning that there are ten syllables in each line and every second syllable is stressed. For example: "If we must die, let it not be like hogs." The syllables I have highlighted in bold here are the syllables that are stressed by the iambic meter. This regular rhythm lends to the poem a musical quality, and it also means that important words are stressed, or emphasized. For example, in the phrase which closes the poem ("but fighting back!"), the word "fight" is emphasized, as is the exclamatory "back!" It is of course appropriate that these words are emphasized because they encapsulate the main message of the poem.

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