by Langston Hughes
Analysis: Form and Meter
Free Verse With Semi-Regular Rhyme
Our Shmoopie sense tends to get activated when we see a perfect rhyme in the first stanza of a poem, in this case "year" and "fear." We might look for patterns in rhyme and meter, since couplets and prescribed meters go together better than toast and jam. But alas, we'd be disappointed in "Democracy" since the poem is indeed written in free verse, only with some well-placed rhymes that help to carry some key ideas and themes.
Just in case you missed it, Hughes's "Democracy" is about freedom, so it kind of makes sense that our poet wouldn't limit his work to some boring form and meter. His poem, just like us, should be free and allowed to sail on the poetic winds and whims of his speaker (whee!). Even if you were just dying for some iambic pentameter today (hey, it could happen), you have to admit that free verse goes pretty well with the theme of freedom.
But the neat little rhymes we get that are sprinkled here and there over the poem keep "Democracy" sounding lyrical (songlike). These rhymes don't sound so forced, but rather come to us in a natural and practical way, just like the speaker's ideas about freedom and democracy.
The second stanza rhymes "stand" with "land" while the third stanza ends with a perfect couplet: "dead" rhyming with "bread." We also notice that these rhymes really drive the speaker's ideas home, whether we're talking about standing on our own land or not being able to eat tomorrow's bread if we're dead. That's because each stanza ends on a rhymed word, so that chime echoes with us in our passage through the brief silence between stanzas. Those echoes underscore the point that each stanza is trying to make.
Notice too that each stanza doesn't even have a set number of lines. The first has four lines, the second has five lines, the fifth has three—you get the idea here. The rhyme is free, the form and meter are free—even freedom is free (well, sort of). No need to count syllables on your fingers today. But do avoid using the phrase "tomorrow is another day" too often.