What is an analysis of the poem “Middle Passage” by Robert Hayden?

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The title of the poem refers to the middle voyage of the ships of the transatlantic slave triangle trade. Ships left port in Europe, picked up slaves in Africa, delivered slaves and picked up goods in the Americas, and returned to Europe.

It's interesting that all the historical voices speaking...

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The title of the poem refers to the middle voyage of the ships of the transatlantic slave triangle trade. Ships left port in Europe, picked up slaves in Africa, delivered slaves and picked up goods in the Americas, and returned to Europe.

It's interesting that all the historical voices speaking in this poem are voices from outside the slaves' experience—sailor, witness, and trader alike. The slaves' experience is never seen from their points of view, allowing some emotional distance. But the speakers suffer as well.

Section one is voiced mainly by a sailor and the writer of a court deposition. The sailor's voice is terrified of the sickness spreading aboard, the encroaching blindness. Note his reference to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" when he asks about the albatross. The deposition describes the passage of the Bella J, which had to be abandoned to fire after fighting amongst the crew over the enslaved women.

Section two is voiced by a retired slave trader. He tells a tale which puts the blame not on himself, but on African kings whose greed drove them to raid neighboring lands for young people to sell to the slave trade. Notice the many signs of greed the trader attributes to the king he describes.

Section three includes three voices. The first is the narrative voice which appears in section one, showing the events through the lens of history. The second voice is considered a spirit, one who sees beyond the flesh and the history into the soul and sees the great desire for life and freedom. The third voice is a witness from the slave ship Amistad. Note here the speaker's attack on Adams for speaking in support of the slave revolt while living in and governing a slaveholding country. The narrative voice finishes the poem with a vision of hope, seeing, from this side of history, the survival of many people through all their hardships to freedom.

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