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“Runagate Runagate” by Robert Hayden Essay

“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the lion or it will not survive. Every morning a lion wakes up and it knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter if you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up you better be running.” Maurice Greene.

Animals need to run in order to survive in the wild, and we humans need to run in order to live. When there were slaves in America those slaves who decided to escape needed to keep on running in order to live. In the poem “Runagate Runagate” by Robert Hayden he describes what it would be like to be a runaway slave. He uses rhythmic style in his poem to show how the runaway slaves would keep on running, and shows many points of views of what went on.

“Runs falls rises stumbles on from darkness into darkness and the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing and the night cold and the night long and the river to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns beckoning beckoning and blackness ahead and when shall I reach that somewhere morning and keep on going and never turn back and keep going”(line 1-line7). Hayden is informing his readers of how it was like to run away from a slave owner. In the beginning of Hayden’s poem he does not use any periods because he wants to show the reader that he could not stop. If Hayden stopped to rest or to catch his breath there was a chance that he could have been caught by his owner, and he would have been severely beaten or killed. “Some go weeping and some rejoicing some in coffins and some in carriages some in silks and some in shackles”(line 15-line17). In these lines Hayden describes different perspectives during the slaves escape. In those lines Hayden has the outcomes; if you were caught you had to go back to being a slave or end up dead, if you got away you were free and happy.

“‘If you see my Pompey, 30 yrs of age, new breeches, plain stockings, negro shoes; if you see my Anna, likely young mulatto branded E on the right cheek, R on the left, catch them if you can and notify subscriber. Catch them if you can, but it won’t be easy. They’ll dart underground when you try to catch them, plunge into quicksand, whirlpools, mazes, turn into scorpions when you try to catch them'”(line¬†21-line29). In these lines Hayden shows an example of how a slave owner would put up a wanted sign if his slaves were missing. It seems that the slave owner thinks that his/her slaves were like monsters because he/she says they were very difficult to catch and if tried to catch them they would attack you. In the second half of Hayden’s poem he goes on to describe what Harriet Tubman did for the runaway slaves. “And fear starts a-murbling, ‘Never make it, we’ll never make it.’ ‘Hush that now’, and she’s turned upon us, leveled pistol glinting in the moonlight: ‘Dead folks can’t jaybird-talk’, she says; ‘you keep on going now or die’ she says.”(line 47-line52).

In these lines Hayden shows how Harriet Tubman would react to someone who was afraid and did not want to try and escape. Tubman had only a goal to help as many slaves escape to freedom and she would not let anyone go back. “Wanted Harriet Tubman alias The General, alias Moses Stealer of Slaves. In league with Garrison Alcott, Emerson Garrett, Douglass Thoreau, John Brown. Armed and know to be Dangerous Wanted Reward Dead or Alive.”(line 53-line58). These lines are from a wanted poster, probably posted by slave owners or by a police officer. This shows what many people thought of Harriet Tubman. Tubman was well know for helping slaves escape and was considered a threat too many slave owners.

Hayden’s rhythmic poem makes his readers visualize a slave running at a constant speed with his slave owners right behind him. “the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing and the night cold and the night long and the river to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns”(line 2-line5). Hayden uses anaphora in this quote by repeating the word “the”, it is used to grab the reader’s attention and makes those words stand out. “Shadow of a face in the scary leaves, shadow of a voice in the talking leaves. Hayden uses personification in these lines, by giving the leaves human qualities; so that the reader has a better visualization of what is going on. “turn into scorpions”(line 29) The slave owner here is saying that the slaves are scorpions. This metaphor is used so the reader has a better visualization.

Hayden’s poem shows many viewpoints of what happens when a slave runs away. Hayden has the views of a slave who escaped, a slave who got caught, a slave¬†owner whose slave escaped, Harriet Tubman, and those who wanted Harriet Tubman caught. Hayden inserts rhythm, anaphora, personification, and metaphors in his poem in order to give the reader a good visualization when reading the poem “Runagate Runagate” by Robert Hayden.

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