Owen Dodson Poetry: American Poets Analysis
As Owen Dodson was unable or unwilling to confine himself to any specific genre, his poems are also far-ranging in subject, style, and form. Reflecting his classical, humanistic education, his poetry frequently alludes to mythological or classical figures. Just as his drama is poetic, his poetry is dramatic and intense. Although highly skilled in the writing of sonnets, he also wrote free verse. Unlike most of the African American poets of his day, who attempted to lay bare the black experience in the United States, Dodson, instead, speaks emotionally, expressing pain and sorrow for those who have no voice.
Powerful Long Ladder
Powerful Long Ladder is permeated with sorrow throughout—sorrow for those individuals suffering from the domination and brutality of racism, from conditions of war, and from grief over the deaths of loved ones. Some of Dodson’s verse written while he was in the U.S. Navy focuses on his awareness of the suffering of others. “Black Mother Praying” (1943), written in free verse, is one of his most famous poems. Dodson relates an African American woman’s anguished pleading for God’s help in response to the brutal treatment of African Americans during the summer, 1943, race riots, sparked by competition between blacks and whites for higher-wage jobs in war industries. Another poem dating from his service period, “Jonathan’s Song, A Negro Saw a Jewish Pageant, ’We Will Never Die,’” was engendered by Dodson’s visit to a Jewish celebration of life. Dodson and a Jewish friend attended a candlelight ceremony commemorating Jews who had died as a result of racial hatred; Dodson’s recognition of the suffering of the Jews produced a passionate emotional poem mingling the suffering of the two races. In 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Dodson composed “Iphigenia,” whose reference to mythological Agamemnon’s daughter, who was sacrificed in order for the Argive fleet to fulfill its mission, comments on the sacrifice of the innocent English people being slaughtered to satisfy the world’s corrupt people. Dodson uses a tone of great sorrow as he internalizes the world’s pain.
In “Poems For My Brother, Kenneth,” in the first poetry selection, Dodson presents various perspectives of his brother. Kenneth appears regularly in Dodson’s dreams, giving him directions, and then disappears back into his grave; in every thought, Dodson is overcome with memories of Kenneth. Dodson questions the relevance of World War II to him in view of Kenneth’s death. Much as his mother’s death years earlier had eroded Dodson’s faith in God, Kenneth’s death has now destroyed any hope of life after death for Dodson. He perceives Kenneth’s body in the ground as “awaiting nothing.” Dodson proclaims, “There will be no resurrection.”
Dodson’s concern for the dignity of black people in a white world of almost universal disrespect for them compelled him to compose poems in memory of African Americans whose accomplishments and personal virtues were exceptional. Poems in Powerful Long Ladder include a tribute to Samuel Chapman Armstrong, founder of Hampton Institute, and to “Miss Packard and Miss Giles,” founders of Spelman College, and a eulogy for fellow poet, Countée Cullen. The book also contains three choruses from his verse drama Divine Comedy (pr. 1938); Some Day We’re Gonna Tear Them Pillars Down, a drama that cries out for freedom; and “Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One,” a personal poem that sets forth sorrow as his enduring lone companion.
The Confession Stone
The Confession Stone , begun in 1960 and finished after he had retired from Howard University, spans the three days from Good Friday to Easter morning. The poems are grouped into cycles involving Jesus’ entire family: poems or letters from Joseph to Mary; entries from “Journals of Magdalene”; Joseph’s letters to Martha, sister of Lazarus;...
(The entire section is 971 words.)