Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's heartfelt poem "The Slave's Dream" is structured as eight sestet stanzas in alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter with a rhyme scheme of a b c b d b etc., varying the Italian sestet rhyme scheme of a b c a b c, in which the trimeter lines correspond with the b-position rhymes. The poetic speaker, who is not the poet himself, is narrating the slave's dream and experience in this dream vision poem.
The poem starts out by positioning the slave laying down beside his work, his tool in his hand, with the "mist and shadow of sleep" about him as he dreams of his "Native Land" where he is a beloved king, with loving wife and children, who rides on a fast horse decked in gold. The dream vision follows the king on a fast ride past landmarks of his beloved land where he smiles at lions, hyenas and the desert blast. The ending reveals that the slave is beyond the pain of the slave "driver's whip," beyond the "burning heat of day," for "Death" has "illuminated" his sleep and set his soul free.
Some of the poetic techniques (one of the two categories of poetic devices) Longfellow uses are metaphor, simile, personification, and irony. An example of metaphor is "mist and shadow of sleep." An example of simile is "like a glorious roll of drums." An example of personification is "Blast of the Desert cried aloud." An example of irony is "Death had illuminated the Land of Sleep." This is creatively ironic because death is associated in poetic convention with darkness and chains of despair, yet Longfellow sees that for the slave death is an illumination of light and a freedom of release; these are the opposite of the poetic convention.
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