Human Rights’ by David Chalk

Here is an analysis of the poem Human Rights’ by David Chalk. The majority of Chalk’s poems are political in nature, and this poem is no exception. Chalk’s poems almost always concern the treatment of other people by the government in which the people are ruled. Other poems Chalk has written include Arab Spring, Workers’ Rights’, and The Refugee Convention. In this particular poem, Chalk exposes both sides of the human rights issue: the side to which every human should be entitled, and the often greedy, self-serving opinions of government officials. Chalk, presumably also the speaker of the poem, leaves no doubt as to which side he resides, referring to government officials as “they” and “them,” while stating the rights each human should be given.

 

Human Rights’ Summary

Chalk presents a dichotomy in his poem: the first two stanzas are dedicated rights every individual should be given; the last four stanzas are dedicated to exposing the selfish opinions of those who are in charge, who often deny such rights to their citizens. Chalk paints a picture with his diction of what a civilized land looks like: it accepts that its citizens have rights that are both major and minor. A civilized land also values truth, fairness, justice, and decency. He then describes the types of civilizations where human rights are not valued. He claims that if a government treasures money more than its people, they will attempt to remove their people’s rights through terrible ways in order to make themselves more rich and powerful. Chalk ends the poem by stating that rights are only for the powerful.

 

Human Rights’ Analysis

The poem, which can be read in full here, is broken into six stanzas, each containing four lines of varying length. While some of the lines do rhyme with each other, there is no set rhyme scheme. The importance of Chalk’s diction in this poem cannot be emphasized enough. Chalk relies on his word choice to convey his theme on the unfairness of denying human rights to all.


Stanza 1

The first stanza is somewhat juvenile, sounding more like something Dr. Seuss would write than a serious poet. Here, the lines all have a similar structure and meter, and lines two and four are a classic example of rhyme. The message in this stanza is quite simple: in a civilized area of the world, that area has a duty to ensure that all of its citizens have rights, regardless of how large or insignificant those rights may be. Chalk does not mince words here; his message—his opinion– is clear and simple.


Stanza 2

It is important to note here that Chalk does not utilize punctuation at the end of any line, including the last one of the poem. He does use commas to separate some thoughts, but for the most part, he neglects to punctuate his lines. Chalk could have chosen to do this for several reasons. First, perhaps Chalk is so impassioned about the poem’s theme that he did not want to bother with punctuation; he was more concerned with getting his thoughts written down quickly. Secondly, the lack of punctuation sets the tone of the poem: the message Chalk is writing is urgent and important. Therefore, it must be read quickly and without pause.

There is no misunderstanding the message Chalk continues to deliver in this stanza. He matter-of-factly states that this is how the world should run when one values ideals such as truth, fairness, justice, and decency.
The last three stanzas directly parallel the first two. In these stanzas, the poet describes what happens when an area is governed by people who are not motivated by common values.

 


Stanza 3

Chalk describes what happens when officials value money over basic human decency. They will do anything to acquire more power and wealth, even if that means removing the rights the people of his or her country once possessed. They will do anything to remove these rights, including actions that are done through deceit and secrecy. The twelfth line of the poem—“Through deceit and stealth”—contains consonance with the repetition of the “t” sound it both deceit and stealth. When this sound is emphasized, it lends a tone of anger and disbelief to the poem. Clearly, the speaker is upset that such injustices occur throughout the world.


Stanza 4

The speaker is separating himself from the despicable people in the world who are denying basic human rights to others, calling them “they.” In this stanza, Chalk gives us the leaders’ excuse for taking away others’ rights. He states they do it while claiming they must do it—it is the duty that comes with their job. They refuse to accept any guilt for what they have done.


Stanza 5

The fifth stanza contains repetition of this thought. Chalk utilizes a somewhat juvenile rhyme here to emphasize his point. He repeats himself that the corrupt leaders claim they have an obligation to their country before they have an obligation to the rights of the people. Chalk utilizes an interesting word in the last line of this stanza—“distain”—which means to sully or dirty. He is claiming that the leaders are sullying their own duties instead of following through on them, for surely there is nothing more important than protecting the basic fundamental rights of human beings.


Stanza 6

The last stanza has a particularly hopeless tone to it. Chalk openly states that he believes human rights only belong to the rich and powerful, whose duty is to ensure the poor are given decency and justice; however, the system almost always fails them. The corrupt country no longer provides the necessities to its people, instead choosing to line the pockets of a select few.

 

Historical Significance of Human Rights’

This poem is timeless and can be applied to nearly every historical era ever recorded. Sadly, basic human rights have been to denied to others based on their religious, social, and political beliefs, and because of their race, sex, or ethnicity. One needs only to choose an area of the world, particularly those prone to dictatorships and oppressive regimes, and one can easily apply the thoughts and themes expressed in this poem.

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