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by Langston Hughes

Analysis: Sound Check

"Democracy" sounds like something you'd hear at a dinner party or over coffee, even if its subject matter is mighty important. It's all about the speaker's casual and informal sound that makes this poem sound more like a conversation than anything else. Our speaker isn't yelling at us or getting super-personal in a way that might make us feel uncomfortable. Instead, he speaks in a plain way that makes "Democracy" sound simple and reasonable, rather than angry and domineering.

The poignantly perfect rhymes we hear, placed strategically at the end of each stanza, give the poem that extra pizzazz that allows the speaker's ideas to carry and stick with us in a memorable way. "Tomorrow's bread" (13-14) rhymed with "dead" is unforgettable, as is freedom being a "strong seed" (15-18) planted in a "great need." At the same time though, it's not as if we need some prior literary knowledge to appreciate the poem or its rhymes. The poem, just like freedom, is for anyone who cares to listen.

And if you listen carefully enough, you'll pick up on some subtle alliteration with all the T and Th words happening in stanza 3:

Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day

"Things" and "their," "take" and "Tomorrow"—all packed into the two short lines—create a kind of repeated, almost monotonous, sense of sound that mirrors the speaker's attitude toward "tomorrow." After all, tomorrow will always be here. It's pretty predictable: that day just after today. So, enough with that unchanging, far-off time. The speaker wants action now, and the sounds in these lines subtly underscore that point.

All in all, there's also something effortless in the way the words roll off the speaker's tongue. He's not trying too hard to make his poem or his ideas sound more important than they are. In fact, they're mighty important all by themselves and therefore they don't need a heavy dose of form, meter, or cryptic syntax to decode the importance of "Democracy." If it sounds simple, it's because the speaker isn't talking about anything wildly impractical or unreasonable. People ought to be free to have a voice and eat their bread today. End of story.

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