Benjamin Zephaniah

Save Our Sons (SOS) by Benjamin Zephaniah

‘Save Our Sons’ focuses on the struggle the African men of England have faced and continue to face against racism and violence.

‘Save Our Sons’ by Benjamin Zephaniah is a free verse poem with three stanzas. This poem focuses on the struggle the African men of England have faced and continue to face against racism and violence. This is a poem of thirty lines primarily calling the reader’s attention to the injustice that still exists today. The title of the poem alone tells the story of a people who are trying to leave a legacy for their children, a people who want to proudly protect their children and future children from the struggles they faced in the past and the struggles they continue to face in the present. You can read the full poem here.

Save Our Sons by Benjamin Zephaniah


Save Our Sons Analysis

First Stanza

We Black men of England
Too proud to cry for shame,
And the cool walk
Will not keep us out of jail.

The first stanza of the poem opens with the narrator introducing the setting for the readers: “Black men of England”. Just from this phrase, alone the reader knows this poem is going to get intense very quickly; this phrase also tells the reader that the poem is about division because of one group in being separated from the rest of England. Line two is a powerful statement that suggests a tough life and continuous struggles to the reader as it proclaims: “too proud to cry for shame”. The narrator is conveying the message that the African American men of England are proud of who they are and how far they have come as a people and refuse to let anyone see them in any form of weakness. This speaks volumes about the situation that they find themselves in England; it means that they are constantly being forced into a place of weakness, to a point where they should be crying but their pride will not allow it.

It is quite upsetting to know that even today people could easily relate to the conditions exposed in this poem, individuals are shamed on a regular basis for reasons that they themselves are not in control of. There should never be a point in anyone’s life that they have to actively put together when in reality society has torn them apart.

Line three to five expresses this sentiment exactly, by stating that they should “cry publicly” and “expose” their pain for others to see. By staying quiet or hiding behind a tough front a person is not being true to themselves and that does not help society in recognizing that there is a dire need for correction and reconciliation. There should be a public display of emotion putting down the conventions and patterns that bring others down for no fault at all. Line three demands that it has to be more than one person who stands up against the society that is bullying them, it needs to be everyone no matter what race or gender or age, everyone must “cry a sea” to drown the evil traditions that allow for some to feel more superior than others. The pain of some must become the pain of all then only will there be true sympathy and true transformation in social standards and norms.

Line six mentions Babylon the bandit which is a very aggressive and violent song released in the 1980s by “Steel Pulse”; this song encourages revenge by committing crimes and that is not encouraged by the narrator of this poem. Here, the narrator wants real change that will only come when people treat people like people.  There is no gain in violently rebelling when it will only turn things for the worst; those who are hurting must stand up and declare their pain to raise awareness that it is real. That is when change can sincerely take root. Lines seven to ten emphasizes that the image of “the bad talk” or “the cool walk” will not help keep anyone “out of jail” when they are caught for the crimes that the song or album promotes. It is okay to vent, but only if you are encouraging change in a healthy way, not if you are endangering your society and potentially your own people by encouraging violence.


Second Stanza

We Black men of England
Our guns are killing us,
Save our sons
The power is within.

The second stanza again begins by bringing attention to the subject of the poem “We Black men of England” by repeating this line at the beginning of the second stanza empowers the narrator by allowing him to remind the reader that they are there and are not at all stepping down. Line twelve is quite powerful as it states that “our guns are killing us”, telling the reader that the problem is serious, people are dying and it is not because they are killing themselves. Lines thirteen and fourteen display the passion and command that the narrator has on this topic, as he communicates to the reader with such short lines to look at his side of the story. It is not about guns it is about society, it is not about who is shooting who, it is about why is there a need to take a life at all? Where is human compassion and sympathy? Why is it that in society no one hurts at the sight of someone’s family member dead, lost, gone forever.

Although all humans are different in physical appearance, they all hurt, bleed, feel pain the same. No one is better than another on the sole basis of birth, or skin. Sometimes society makes it so easy to jump to conclusions about people solely based on what a person appears like. Taking lives, being violent is not saving anyone, no matter what it seems like violence is not going to result in peace. Lines eighteen to twenty highlight the idea that when the guns are silent, it will help protect the future of society by giving it the power to allow reformation. The absence of violence will give courage to the people to openly talk about the issues and at least give the future generations a chance at equality.


Third Stanza

We Black men of England
Excel as if in sport
We men shall rise
As proud sons of our race.

The final stanza of this poem also begins with the narrator advocating for the voice of “Black men in England” allowing readers to recognize and become aware that whether they believe it or not, this group of people has been socially alienated and mistreated. Lines twenty-one to –twenty-five express that the African American men of England have excelled and brought fame to England especially in sport but the people of England refuse to allow them acceptance. They are still looked upon as criminals. The social norm is to separate these men from any title of success so that they do not grow as people and do not expect the same rights and basic humanity that the rest of society enjoys. How bitter to put someone down even after they present that they are powerful. The last five lines of this poem are intense because it brings in the reality that African American women in England are fighting a battle too and when the men stand with their women and offer them a helping hand is getting others to hear their voices too, then only will the Black men of England stand proud and tall of their identity and society will be forced to acknowledge their greatness and accept them as a norm and not an oddity. Unity amongst the people is the only way that people of differences can be indifferent together.

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Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.
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