What is the tone of the poem "Ode to American English" by Barbara Hamby?
The tone of Barbara Hamby's "Ode to American English" could be described as affectionate and whimsical, with a hint of nostalgia.
The entire poem is essentially a list of American English words and phrases which the narrator particularly enjoys. The British are much too proper, too cultured, and this narrator wants to hear something else.
Oh, the English
know their delphiniums, but what about doowop, donuts,
Dick Tracy, Tricky Dick? With their elegant Oxfordian
accents, how could they understand my yearning for the hotrod,
hotdog, hot flash vocabulary of the U. S of A.
Notice the alliteration and the onomatopoetic words, words that just trip off the tongue and bring delight just in the saying.
It is more than just words, though. She misses the unique and creative forms and jargons of the American language.
Ebonics, Spanglish, “you know” used as comma and period,
the inability of 90% of the population to get the present perfect:
I have went, I have saw, I have tooken Jesus into my heart,
the battlecry of the Bible Belt, but no one uses
the King James anymore, only plain-speak versions,
in which Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, says,
“Dude, wake up,” and the L-man bolts up like a B-movie
mummy. “Whoa, I was toasted.”
The narrator could be mocking America's brand of English; however, she seems to have an affection for all of the idiosyncrasies she points out. In fact, if she were not a speaker of this American language she would not know all of its quirks, foibles, and eccentricities. She misses it because it makes her smile and because it is comfortable and familiar to her.
Over and over in the poem she says she misses these things, and she ends with the grand comparison, the grand metaphor, comparing the comfortable, silly, and often ridiculous American language to something much more formal--and dead.
I miss them all, sitting here on my sidewalk throne sipping
champagne verses lined up like hearses.
Compared to proper British English, which is champagne, American English is beer--or maybe chocolatey Yoohoo.
Though American English is odd and sometimes ridiculous, it is alive. It moves and breathes and changes and speaks in ways that its ancestor, British English, cannot. The tone is whimsical and affectionate.