Dudley Randall dedicated this poem to the “mercy killers”. It seems that the poet is referring to those who support euthanasia. Mercy killing or euthanasia means the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma. It is still a debated matter in bioethics. However, there are a few countries such as Belgium, Canada, and Switzerland where mercy killing is legal or de facto legal. Whereas some countries strictly proscribe this voluntary suicide.
In this poem, the poetic persona or the poet himself talks directly with those who support euthanasia. The poet requests them not to end his life even if he requests them to do so. At some point in his life, he can act against his will. The speaker will ask for it. He might be willing to end that process of suffering somehow. Then they should not act according to his wish. As life is more important than death. At the end of the poem, the poet appeals to the “mercy killers”. All he wants is to let him glow.
You can read the full poem here.
This poem is short in structure but vast in its poetic range. It consists of 14 lines. The poem is written in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. Randall provides a clear division in the poem’s structure according to the shift of his idea. In the first eight lines, the poet talks about the physical condition that may lead others to think about ending the patient’s life. Whereas the next six lines present the patient’s perspective. Moreover, the poet uses regular rhyme in this poem. The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. So the poem contains three quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end. The overall poem is composed in iambic pentameter.
There are several literary devices in this poem, ‘To the Mercy Killers’. To begin with, the first line contains a personification. The poet uses alliteration in phrases such as “mercy move” and “kindly killers”. In the third line, the poet makes use of an insinuation in the phrase “set me free.” Thereafter, the line, “but let me know such life as pain can give”, is an epigram. The poet uses several metaphors in the fifth and sixth lines. The sixth line also contains asyndeton. Moreover, the poet uses a simile in the line, “still let me live, so long as life shall throb.” The poem ends with a metaphor and here the poet compares life to the light.
Analysis of To the Mercy Killers
If ever mercy move you murder me,
I pray you, kindly killers, let me live.
a stub, a stump, a butt, a scab, a knob,
a screaming pain, a putrefying stench,
Randall begins his poem, ‘To the Mercy Killers’, with the term “murder”. This word clarifies the poet’s point-of-view. He is against mercy killing. However, in this section, the speaker says if mercy ever moves one to kill him, he kindly prays to the “mercy killers” to let him live. With these two lines, the poet can give his message to the readers. According to the poet, even if a person’s condition is unbearable to look at, one cannot voluntarily kill himself. It is against nature.
Thereafter, the speaker advises the “mercy killers” not to conspire with death to set him free from bodily sufferings. They should allow him to know the importance of painful episodes. In the following lines, the speaker compares his probable conditions to several things. Firstly, he compares himself to a “clot”. Thereafter he goes on comparing himself to “an aching clench,/ a stub, a stump, a butt, a scab, a knob,/ a screaming pain, a putrefying stench.” In the given scenarios, they have no right over killing one’s life.
still let me live, so long as life shall throb.
do not put out my life. Let me still glow.
In this section of the poem, the poet uses repetition at the beginning. Previously, he has talked about the possible scenarios that can happen to him. If the speaker ever gets trapped in the given circumstances, he will prefer life over death. For this reason, he says, “still let me live, so long as life shall throb.” As long as the sign of life in his body, he will not admit his defeat.
The speaker himself can beg to die. He may become a traitor to himself. All he wants from them is not to accomplice him on his deathbed. Even though he seems no human, they cannot put an end to his life. In the following lines, the poet uses some significant metaphors such as “mute shelf of glucose” and “bottled blood”. He uses these metaphors to refer to his likely future.
Moreover, the speaker remarks, at some point his body will be paralyzed. He will need the assistance of machines to swell the lung and pump his heart. Even then, he requests them not to put out his life. In his eyes, there will still be the same passion and glow for life. For this reason, he remarks, “Let me still glow.”
Dudley Randall was one of the best-known African-American poets. He was an important part of the Black Arts Movement. In this poem, the poet talks about the debated topic of euthanasia and presents his viewpoint regarding this matter. He welcomes all the available arguments in his poem. But he negates them all. Euthanasia seems to the poet as a means of killing a person. Hence, the title of the poem is ‘To the Mercy Killers’. With the title, the poet highlights the fact that this process of relieving a person from his life, is nothing but a kind of killing or murder. In this way, the poet explores this historically significant theme in his poem.
Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the essence of Randall’s poem, ‘To the Mercy Killers’. Readers can refer to the following poems for further reference.
- Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou – It is one of the best Maya Angelou poems and in this simple poem the poet describes the fears that a child speaker has regarding life.
- Life by Charlotte Brontë – This poem seeks to dispel the dark thoughts one might believe in, that life is necessarily bad, dark, and unpleasant.
- O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman – In this one of the best Walt Whitman poems, the poet talks about the nature of life. This poem presents a contrast between the good and bad sides of life.
- One Life by Paul Laurence Dunbar – This lyric is all about life. In this strictly personal poem, the poet describes how he strives to come out of the sufferings.