This short poem is incredibly effective in depicting a world that’s moved far beyond minstrel shows and the icons of slavery. Randall uses simple language to suggest that such a future is possible and that this is the “age” for it in ‘A Different Image.’
Explore A Different Image
‘A Different Image’ by Dudley Randall is a short, two-stanza poem that speaks about a “different image” and the end of racism in the United States.
In the first half of this poem, the speaker begins by declaring that this is the age for a change. He believes that it’s time to create a different image of black culture and individuals “re-animate the mask.” The second stanza gets more specific, and its declaration that the time of minstrel shows and icons of slavery in fear is over.
You can read the full poem here.
The main theme of this poem changes. The speaker imagines a world free from racism (depicted through the image of the minstrel performer and the “icons of slavery and fear). He sees that change is possible and believes that now, in this age, it is the time for it.
Structure and Form
‘A Different Image’ by Dudley Randall is a two-stanza poem that is divided into six-line stanzas. These stanzas are written in free verse. This means that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
The lines are very short, sometimes only one or two words long, and use very different end sounds. For example, “age,” “task,” and “create” in the first three lines.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “bronze” and “Benin” in the final line of the poem.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza and lines two, three, and four of the second stanza.
- Allusion: a reference to something outside the scope of the poem. In this case, the poet alludes to the contemporary world, social policies, racism, and the Benin Bronzes.
- Personification: seen through the description of the Benin Bronzes as “proud” and “serene.”
requires this task:
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by alluding to the “age” or the time period that he and his readers are living in. This “age” requires something new. It calls for “this task,” which is defined as creating “a different image.” It’s time, he says, to “re-animate / the mask.”
Within this stanza, the poet uses simple, to-the-point language that’s easy to read and understand. But, it does take some analysis to figure out exactly what he’s trying to convey. He’s alluding to (as the second stanza makes clear) the contemporary state of his world and how the Black community is being treated (and has been treated historically). It’s time to “re-animate the mask,” he writes at the end of this stanza. This likely connects to his allusion to the Benin Bronzes in the second stanza (many of which have the appearance of masks).
Shatter the icons of slavery and fear.
and classic bronze of Benin.
In the second stanza, the speaker begins by describing what comes along with the change the new “age” calls for. It includes shattering the “icons of slavery and fear.” This refers to laws, ideals, images, and more. Anything that continues the beliefs associated with slavery is in the past and should be set to the side. Black men, women, and children should be associated with other images of Black identity besides slavery and fear.
The same is suggested for the image of the “minstrel” wearing blackface, described as “burnt-cork face,” who on stage leers at the crowd and perpetuates racist narratives.
The speaker suggests replacing the image of men wearing blackface on stage and the icons of slavery and fear with the “classic bronze of Benin.”
The latter is an allusion to the Benin Bronzes, a series of bronze and brass sculptures created in the 16th century in the West African Kingdom of Benin. The images of primarily of human beings, human heads, royal imagery, and animals. They are, as Randall states, “proud, serene / and classic.”
They depict Black men and women, and Black life more generally, in a beautiful and “proud” way that is intentionally juxtaposed with the “icons of slavery and fear” and the “minstrel’s burnt-cork face.” It’s this image of Black life that the speaker is striving for, or something closer to it.
The purpose is to advocate for a new world in which Black men, women, and children, along with Black culture more generally, are appreciated on an equal level. Randall suggests that respect, change, and transformative social policies are required in this new age.
The tone is determined. He sees a future that could play out, and he’s filled with strength in the pursuit of it. He does not mourn the past but instead uses simple language to say it’s time to get rid of it.
The themes are racism and change. The contemporary world, Randall writes, is ready to be reimagined. He’s looking for a future where Black men and women are not subjected to the same kind of subjugation and cruelty as they are now.
‘A Different Image’ is a free verse poem that is divided into two stanzas, each of which contains six lines. These stanzas use lines of very different lengths, some of which have as few as a single word.
Dudley Randall was born in Washington, D.C. in January 1914. His first published poem was released in 1927, when he was only 13 years old. Today, he is best known for the piece ‘Ballad of Birmingham’ and the establishment of Broadside Press.
Readers who enjoy this poem should also consider exploring some other Dudley Randall poems. For example:
- ‘Ballad of Birmingham’ – was first published in 1965 as a broadside. It is a moving narrative of the last moments of a little girl murdered in a church bombing.
- ‘To the Mercy Killers’ – is a poem centered on the concept of “mercy killing” or euthanasia. The poet presents his viewpoint regarding this matter in this poem.