Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

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The Ballad
[Page 4]

Many modern writers have continued writing in the ballad form; poets use it to create certain effects, as we will see below, and songwriters (especially folk singer/songwriters) have continued the tradition of the oral ballad. Here is an example of a twentieth-century ballad written by Dudley Randall in response to an attack on an Alabama church that killed four teenage girls during the American Civil Rights movement. (The text is taken from this page.)



Ballad of Birmingham (1969)



(On the bombing of a church in 

Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)



  "Mother dear, may I go downtown 

  Instead of out to play, 

  And march the streets of Birmingham 

  In a Freedom March today?" 



  "No, baby, no, you may not go, 

  For the dogs are fierce and wild, 

  And clubs and hoses, guns and jails 

  Aren't good for a little child." 

  

  "But, mother, I won't be alone. 

  Other children will go with me, 

  And march the streets of Birmingham 

  To make our country free." 



  "No, baby, no, you may not go, 

  For I fear those guns will fire. 

  But you may go to church instead 

  And sing in the children's choir." 



  She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair, 

  And bathed rose petal sweet, 

  And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands, 

  And white shoes on her feet. 



  The mother smiled to know that her child 

  Was in the sacred place, 

  But that smile was the last smile 

  To come upon her face. 



  For when she heard the explosion, 

  Her eyes grew wet and wild. 

  She raced through the streets of Birmingham 

  Calling for her child. 



  She clawed through bits of glass and brick, 

  Then lifted out a shoe. 

  "O, here's the shoe my baby wore, 

  But, baby, where are you?" 



How does this poem match your expectations of the ballad tradition? Does it depart from that tradition? What is the effect of Randall's use of the ballad for the content of this poem?
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