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The Landlord Vs. Miss Gee

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Natasha Johnson

Professor Ostrom

English 340

29 October, 2007

The Landlord vs. Miss Gee

Langston Hughes and W. H. Auden are two highly educated authors, who came from very different cultural backgrounds. Literary contemporaries, contemporaries in that they were both working writers during the same time period, Hughes and Auden are known for literary works which tackle both moral and political issues. Langston Hughes's and W. H. Auden's poems "Ballad of the Landlord" and "Miss Gee" exhibit each author's ability to employ the use of a traditional poetic form to tell a fanciful yet haunting story of characters whose initial qualities are comedic and simple. Both poems are similar in that they are ballads, they rhyme, and they both end in tragedy; however the tragic outcomes for each of the stories characters are as different as the authors who wrote them and the variations on the style they chose to tell these stories.

In order to understand how the form of Hughes's "Ballad of the Landlord" and Auden's "Miss Gee" affect the topics of the poems, it is important to know what a ballad is in terms of poetry. A ballad usually tells a story and is quite similar to a legend or folk tale. Ballads many times are about love. They have a song-like quality, which means they can be, and sometimes are, put to music and sung. Ballads are most often used in children's poetry, like Mother Goose rhymes for example. Additionally, they usually rhyme and many times ballads will have a repeating refrain, like,

"With her clothes buttoned up to her neck." (p. 519, 40)

in "Miss Gee", this makes them easier to remember than other forms of poetry.

Hughes seems to go to great lengths to shatter the conventional ballad form with "Ballad of the Landlord". In addition to the fact that there is no repeating refrain as in Auden's "Miss Gee", both the meter and the rhyme scheme are highly irregular. Take the second and third stanzas, for example:

"Landlord, landlord,

These steps is broken down.

When you come up yourself

It's a wonder you don't fall down.

"Ten Bucks you say I owe you?

Ten bucks you say is due?

Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'll pay you

Till you fix this house up new." (p. 517, 5-12)

While both stanzas contain four lines, which is standard for a ballad, neither stanza has a matching or consistent meter. The number of syllables in each line varies throughout the poem from stanza to stanza. Furthermore, albeit each stanza rhymes, the rhyme scheme varies as well.

Hughes does well to connect the blues form of song writing to the narrative of his poem. He is ingenious in his capacity to draw on his education and connect it to his culture. The variations in "Ballad of the Landlord" are justified when it is noted that the poem takes the form of an old blues melody.

In its earlier stages, the blues consisted of a regular form, which was easily replicated. The form was of a narrative nature, telling of the troubles or woes of the voice of the song. Additionally, in the later stages of blues music, during the transition into the jazz era (jazz having blues among its many influences), the blues becomes much more irregular and improvisational. "Ballad of the Landlord" mimics the unorthodox improvisational characteristics of jazz and late blues music.

Like "Ballad of the Landlord", "Miss Gee" is very irregular in its meter:

"Let me tell you a little story

About Miss Edith Gee;

She lived in Clevedon Terrace

At Number 83.

"She'd a slight squint in her left eye,

Her lips they were thin and small,

She had narrow sloping shoulders

And she had no bust at all." (p. 518, 1-8)

However, unlike "Ballad of the Landlord", the twenty five stanzas of four lines, in "Miss Gee", all follow a very regular xaxa rhyme scheme which can be seen in the stanzas above. Although the meter is irregular, Auden's use of a traditional ballad rhyme scheme

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