Written by: Timothy Sonniah

The War Prayer is a poem written by Mark Twain; some people also claim that it is a short story or prose. The poem primarily talks of patriotism and the glory of battles to save and ensure the well being of one’s country (Twain). The verse explains the double life of a man and his efforts to make life more comfortable. The poem gives a detailed discussion of wars, events that led to wars, the brutal truth about what happened in battlefields, and the aftermaths of wars.

On the other hand, written by Paul Dunbar, Sympathy is a poem that is all about freedom. The poet uses a bird stuck in a cage symbolically to illustrate the life of an individual who does not have freedom (Dunbar). Racism, mistreatments, and imprisonment are quite dominant in this poem.

Moreover, the poem Sympathy explains the effects of the above issues on a person’s soul, way of thinking, and view of life. The caged bird represents Black Americans and the struggle they face while living in a country that is full of discrimination and oppression by the whites. These individuals barely enjoy any form of freedom as they live under the control of whites who are not only manipulative but also abusive and controlling.

Realism is giving the representation of reality; it provides details about events, places, or individuals truthfully without holding back any information or detail. Most people define realism as the brutal truth. Realism had been used significantly in both The War Prayer and Sympathy. The essay will discuss the different characteristics of realism in the two poems.

Mark Twain is quite famous for the use of realism in his works of art. The whole poem is an example of realism. Unlike other authors, Mark Twain opts to give truthful information regarding wars; he discusses what happened in battlefields rather than avoiding the topic as most writers do. His statements are not realism but a hunch to catch his audience; this is because he immediately introduces prayer for the soldiers.

The song gives the audience insight into the war by revealing all the details about the events that occur during wars. The stranger who leads in the prayer claims to be ‘God’s messenger’ although he is hell dressed as speaks as religious leaders do, he is just a mundane and not a supernatural being. The congregation ignores the stranger as the second part of the prayer gives brutal details about the hardship and the struggle veterans experience during wars. 

Just like Mark Twain, Paul Dunbar applies realism significantly in this poem, Sympathy. Realism here is not supposed to illustrate the caged bird; it is to give an insight into the lives of individuals who live without any freedom. The writer discussed the life of a black American in a country full of racial discrimination, a place where blacks do not have the freedom to do as they wish or express their thoughts or convictions.

As the writer says,”…knows how caged bird feels.” The speaker is a victim of living a life without freedom as he is an African-American. In the poem, Dunbar recalls his life as a child and the struggles he went through as his parents served as slaves in the United States of America; he uses a local dialect, and monologues to give the audience the realism of his life as a black American.

Using the onomatopoeic “ah” vowels in the first two stanzas, Dunbar creates a melancholic mood full of lament, which means that life as a black American was nothing close to happiness. Although a lot remains unsaid, its needs not to be spoken of as the author, Paul Dunbar redundancy of the last line serves as a constant reminder of his sad life, which is only a representation of what other black Americans experience. 

The two poets are quite successful in using realism in their works of art. Unlike others, the two have decided to give us an insight into the two subjects, namely; wars and oppression of black Americans without hiding any details. Mark Twain discusses what happens in battlefields and the different challenges that veterans face, although it’s a topic that most individuals choose to ignore.

He examines the aftermaths of war and the fact that most individuals do not want to view their opponents as humans. On the other hand, Paul uses a caged bird symbolically to represent his life as a black American who lives without freedom and how he faces oppression. Dunbar serves as a representation of the lives of black Americans in America.

Works Cited

Dunbar, Paul Lawrence. “Sympathy.” The Poetry of the Negro (1970): 1476-1970.

Twain, Mark. “The War Prayer.” Social Policy 33.2 (2002).

—. The War Prayer. Morning Sun Printers, 1891.