Poems on human rights

Many poems and songs lyrics have been written about human rights. This lesson invites you to explore a few selected poems and song lyrics. You may find that you want to explore more poems and songs by one or more of these writers in preparation for an individual oral or HL Essay.

  1. Work in groups. Draw a diagram like the one below or print out the worksheet provided. As a group spend about 5-10 minutes discussing each poem or song presented below (Texts 1-5). In relation to each poem, discuss which word you think is the single most import word and place this in the middle of your diagram. Decide which three words are the second most important and place these in the middle ring. Which six words would you classify as the third most important words in the poem or song? Place these in the outer ring. Share your answers with other groups and discuss why you have ranked these words in the way that you have ranked them. What determines the 'importance' of a word in a poem or song

    Worksheet: Bull's-eye analysis

    The squats we used to party in
                are flats we can’t afford
    The dumps we did our dancing in
                have all been restored
    Pints are up two quid
                the staff are beautiful and bored
    You think it’s coming round here?
                It’s falling on its sword.
    It don’t feel like home no more
                I don’t speak the lingo.
    Since when was this a winery?
                It used to be the bingo.
    I’ve walked these streets for all my life
                they know me like no other.
    But the streets have changed.
                I no longer feel them
                                        Alright alright, I get the gist.
                Whose city is this?
    It doesn’t want me no more.
    I’ve had a glimpse
                into the future.
    It stinks.
                London’s a walled fort,
                it’s all for the rich,
                if you fall short you fall.
    You know where the door is.
                Board up the broken,
    do it up,
                sell it back
    make it bespoke.
                        It’s all out in the open.
                It’s fine, man,
                hike the price right up
    and smile with your friends
                in the posh new nightclubs.
    My streets have been dug up.
                        New routes for commuters.
               The landscape has changed
    I’m looking for the old tags,
               the graffs that once meant
                        safe territory
    but it seems
               every hieroglyph gets whitewashed

    Men of England, wherefore plough 
    For the lords who lay ye low? 
    Wherefore weave with toil and care 
    The rich robes your tyrants wear? 

    Wherefore feed and clothe and save 
    From the cradle to the grave 
    Those ungrateful drones who would 
    Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood? 

    Wherefore, Bees of England, forge 
    Many a weapon, chain, and scourge, 
    That these stingless drones may spoil 
    The forced produce of your toil? 

    Have ye leisure, comfort, calm, 
    Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm? 
    Or what is it ye buy so dear 
    With your pain and with your fear? 

    The seed ye sow, another reaps; 
    The wealth ye find, another keeps; 
    The robes ye weave, another wears; 
    The arms ye forge, another bears. 

    Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap: 
    Find wealth—let no imposter heap: 
    Weave robes—let not the idle wear: 
    Forge arms—in your defence to bear. 

    Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells— 
    In hall ye deck another dwells. 
    Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see 
    The steel ye tempered glance on ye. 

    With plough and spade and hoe and loom 
    Trace your grave and build your tomb 
    And weave your winding-sheet—till fair 
    England be your Sepulchre.

    When my mother died I was very young, 
    And my father sold me while yet my tongue 
    Could scarcely cry " 'weep! 'weep! 'weep! 'weep!" 
    So your chimneys I sweep & in soot I sleep. 

    There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head 
    That curled like a lamb's back, was shaved, so I said, 
    "Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head's bare, 
    You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair." 

    And so he was quiet, & that very night, 
    As Tom was a-sleeping he had such a sight! 
    That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, & Jack, 
    Were all of them locked up in coffins of black; 

    And by came an Angel who had a bright key, 
    And he opened the coffins & set them all free; 
    Then down a green plain, leaping, laughing they run, 
    And wash in a river and shine in the Sun. 

    Then naked & white, all their bags left behind, 
    They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind. 
    And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy, 
    He'd have God for his father & never want joy. 

    And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark 
    And got with our bags & our brushes to work. 
    Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy & warm; 
    So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.

    Let America be America again.
    Let it be the dream it used to be.
    Let it be the pioneer on the plain
    Seeking a home where he himself is free.

    (America never was America to me.)

    Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
    Let it be that great strong land of love
    Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
    That any man be crushed by one above.

    (It never was America to me.)

    O, let my land be a land where Liberty
    Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
    But opportunity is real, and life is free,
    Equality is in the air we breathe.

    (There's never been equality for me,
    Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

    Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
    And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

    I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
    I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
    I am the red man driven from the land,
    I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
    And finding only the same old stupid plan
    Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

    I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
    Tangled in that ancient endless chain
    Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
    Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
    Of work the men! Of take the pay!
    Of owning everything for one's own greed!

    I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
    I am the worker sold to the machine.
    I am the Negro, servant to you all.
    I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
    Hungry yet today despite the dream.
    Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
    I am the man who never got ahead,
    The poorest worker bartered through the years.

    Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
    In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
    Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
    That even yet its mighty daring sings
    In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
    That's made America the land it has become.
    O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
    In search of what I meant to be my home—
    For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
    And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
    And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
    To build a "homeland of the free."

    The free?

    Who said the free? Not me?
    Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
    The millions shot down when we strike?
    The millions who have nothing for our pay?
    For all the dreams we've dreamed
    And all the songs we've sung
    And all the hopes we've held
    And all the flags we've hung,
    The millions who have nothing for our pay—
    Except the dream that's almost dead today.

    O, let America be America again—
    The land that never has been yet—
    And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
    The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
    Who made America,
    Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
    Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
    Must bring back our mighty dream again.

    Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
    The steel of freedom does not stain.
    From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
    We must take back our land again,

    O, yes,
    I say it plain,
    America never was America to me,
    And yet I swear this oath—
    America will be!

    Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
    The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
    We, the people, must redeem
    The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
    The mountains and the endless plain—
    All, all the stretch of these great green states—
    And make America again!

    You may write me down in history
    With your bitter, twisted lies,
    You may trod me in the very dirt
    But still, like dust, I'll rise.

    Does my sassiness upset you?
    Why are you beset with gloom?
    ’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
    Pumping in my living room.

    Just like moons and like suns,
    With the certainty of tides,
    Just like hopes springing high,
    Still I'll rise.

    Did you want to see me broken?
    Bowed head and lowered eyes?
    Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
    Weakened by my soulful cries?

    Does my haughtiness offend you?
    Don't you take it awful hard
    ’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
    Diggin’ in my own backyard.

    You may shoot me with your words,
    You may cut me with your eyes,
    You may kill me with your hatefulness,
    But still, like air, I’ll rise.

    Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I've got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?

    Out of the huts of history’s shame
    I rise
    Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
    I rise
    I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
    Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

    Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
    I rise
    Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
    I rise
    Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
    I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
    I rise
    I rise
    I rise.

  2. After having read all of these poems and song lyrics, work as a class to make a list of global issues that are related to human rights.

  3. Work in pairs and find a poem or song that relates to one or more of the human rights that you listed in the previous activity. Visit the page on poems in the text types section of this Support Site. Are there any poetic, stylistic or structural devices that you can identify in your poem? What are the effects of these devices on the reader? Why do you think the author chose these words in this order? 

  4. Visit the page on concepts in the 'Guide and outline' section of this Support Site. Write a discussion question for your classmates about your poem, which includes one or more of these seven concepts in the question. 

  5. Give a 5-minute presentation on your group's poem, in which you comment on: the global issues that are presented in your poem, the kinds of stylistic and structural features that you found in your poem and the concepts that you discussed as a group. Ask your classmates discussion questions. 

Take one of the poets who are featured in this lesson and find more poems by him or her. What kinds of global issues are present in more poems by this poet? Can you find a non-literary body of work elsewhere (on this site) to pair with your poet to explore a global issue of choice in your individual oral?

Last modified: Wednesday, 18 March 2020, 1:24 PM