“Transfer,” a poem of nine balladic quatrain stanzas rhyming abcb, employs the African American folk tradition that characterizes all the poetry of Sterling A. Brown. The poem is divided into two parts: Part I re-creates the event that caused a black man to be imprisoned, and part II narrates the circumstances and consequences of his escape from prison. More significantly, part II concludes with the hero’s folk wisdom concerning the directions and goals of the African American life.
The title of the poem alludes to the last stanza, in which the former convict realizes that he needs to “transfer” from one line of thought and direction in his life to another. He senses that the direction of his life heretofore has been the wrong one for black people to follow in the United States. The term “transfer” also literally refers to the transfer (a piece of paper) that one receives when changing from one bus line to another.
“Transfer” is written in the standard third-person point of view of the ballad form, and the poet acts as the narrator who relates to the reader the poignant story of the unnamed black convict. In the first four stanzas, the poet reveals the circumstances that lead the black man to the conclusions he reaches in the final stanza. The first stanza relates that in a fit of possible absentmindedness, the young man forgets to say “sir” to a white man during the “Jim Crow” era in the South. As a result...
(The entire section is 488 words.)