When examining the poetic devices used in Langston Hughes’ “The Ballad of the Landlord,” the form of the poem as a ballad is the first thing to be considered. Hughes writes the first six stanzas of the poem in ballad form consisting of a narrative which includes quatrains with a set rhyming pattern. In this case, the rhyming pattern is ABCB which provides a lyrical quality to the poem. As with most ballads, the speaker is an anonymous person representing a larger group. The narrator is speaking for all of the “Negro” tenants who were treated wrongfully by their landlords. His language is informal and realistic.
The final stanza written in ballad form is spoken by the landlord after he is threatened by the tenant, and includes the use of hyperbole or exaggeration as he says, “
He's trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!
The tenant, although angry, is simply trying to obtain acceptable living conditions.
The last stanza of the poem deviates from this structure. The short, emphatic lines move the poem quickly to its end. The newspaper headline uses capital letters throughout which emphasizes its message and includes the word “Negro” to explain that the poem is speaking about the plight of African-Americans in Harlem during the 1930’s.
The tenant asks rhetorical questions of the landlord which another effective device. It is obvious that the tenant knows what his rent is but he asks questions. This is another way of emphasizing his message.
Ten Bucks you say I owe you?
Ten Bucks you say is due?
Another device that Hughes employs is repetition. The word “landlord” is repeated as the tenant states his case about the deplorable conditions of the rented house. Langston Hughes effectively uses a variety of poetic devices throughout he poem to convey his message of social injustice.