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Comparing the poem "Sympathy" by Laurence Dunbar with an RSPCA webpage

The RSPCA webpage has disappeared. I have made a link to their current text on battery hens but I have not had time to analyse it. The notes in the table below do not relate to the new text. Sorry, you will have to make your own notes on the new text. Not a bad thing perhaps ...

“Sympathy”, Laurence Dunbar RSPCA Webpage
TEXT TYPE  Poem  Webpage
Readers of poetry - literate 19th century Black Americans and liberal Whites?  Internet users with an interest in animal welfare
  • To win sympathy for caged birds and all captive animals
  • To win sympathy for oppressed Black people in the USA? 
  • To persuade egg consumers to buy only free range eggs
  • To persuade hen farmers not to use battery systems (though the RSPCA probably accept that a webpage alone is unlikely to succeed)
  • To persuade people to lobby government officials
THEME  The suffering of wild birds in captivity and their awareness of the freedom they lack 
The cruelty of battery farming and the existence of a more humane alternative
  • Sentimental, literary …
  • “Romantic” (like much 19th century literature, it appeals to the reader’s emotions and celebrates the beauty of nature) … 
  • Factual (e.g. lots of measurements)
  • Expository – i.e. it explains something
  • (e.g. “For example”; “This means”)
  • 3 stanzas of equal length
  • Elaborate rhyming scheme (A-B-C-C-B-A-A)
  • [The 1st line of each stanza is repeated at the end]
  • Regular metre
The strict, regular structure reflects the bird’s captivity?  (The rhyming scheme is like the bars of a cage?) 
1. Info. On battery farming 
2. The Freedom Food scheme 
3. What you can do (“If you …  If you …) 
(+    Contact details) 
(+    Appeal for donations)
IMAGERY Main image: 
caged bird beating wings against cage bars  (fairly effective?) 
Minor images: 
River = glass 
Bud = chalice 
Bird sounds = carol/prayer 

Perhaps the image of blood throbbing in old scars is really a reference to Black people’s memories of slavery?

Each hen has an area the size of a PC screen (clever comparison since the webpage reader is actually looking at a PC screen …) 

Uses statistics rather than imagery – 
cage area, dates, number of Freedom Food eggs sold etc. 

  • Rather literary, ornate, high-flown (e.g. “Ah me”; “ops”; “steals”; “bow”; “aswing”; “bosom”) 
  • [“ops” is an invented abbreviation of ‘opens’, used because a rhyme for “slopes” was needed!  Similarly, the word order of the second last line is distorted in order to facilitate a rhyme] 
  • Nevertheless, much of the diction is relatively simple and easily understood? 
  • A lot of the words appeal to the readers’ senses (e.g. bright sun, soft wind, perfume, sting, sore)? 
  • Mostly rather formal, relatively unemotional language? 
  • One group of words relating to the hens’ living space (restrict, allocates, area, space) 
  • Another group relating to government policy (proposals, ban, demand, phase out, minimum standards, campaigning) 
  • Some more colloquial, personal diction (“check out …”; “why not ask”) 
  • The personal pronouns “you” or “your” are used 9 times in the Take Action section. 

     Frankie Meehan