Compare and contrast Dudley Randall's poem "The Ballad of Birmingham" to “Sir Patrick Spens” in terms of structure and subject matter.

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dudley Randall’s “Ballad of Birmingham” can be compared and contrasted to the traditional popular ballad “Sir Patrick Spens” in a number of ways, particularly with regard to structure and themes.  Relevant comparisons and contrasts include the following:

  • CONTRAST: “Sir Patrick Spens” is a longer poem, consisting of eleven stanzas rather than eight.
  • COMPARISON AND CONTRAST: Both poems feature four-line stanzas that rhyme, but whereas the “Spens” stanzas rhyme a/b/a/b, the stanzas in Randall’s poem rhyme a/b/c/b. The “Spens” lines alternate in length by the number of syllables as follows: 8/6/8/6.  The number of syllables per line in the first three stanzas of Randall’s poem are less regularly predictable: 8/6/8/7, 8/7/8/7, 8/8/8/6.
  • COMPARISON: Both poems feature dialogue, particularly in their first two stanzas. In the first stanza someone asks a question, and in the second stanza someone answers that question. Both poems feature narrators who comment on the events the poems depict.
  • CONTRAST: The speaking characters in “Spens” are males; the speaking characters in Randall’s poem are females.  There are two speakers in Randall’s poem, but there are four in “Spens.”
  • COMPARISON AND CONTRAST: Both poems deal with the deaths of various persons, but whereas the deaths in “Spens” are anticipated by some of the characters, the deaths in Randall’s poem are not. The dead persons in “Spens” are adults who die after deciding to obey the king’s orders; the dead persons in the Randall poem are children who make no choice to put themselves in an obviously dangerous situation.
  • COMPARISON: Both poems feature references to the combs:

O, lang, lang may the ladies stand,

Wi’ their gold kembs [combs] in their hair . . . (“Spens,” 37-38)


She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet . . . (Randall, 17-18)

  • COMPARISON: Both poems deal with tragic outcomes.