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While the formal patterns of Hegelian recognition instantiated in "Night, Death, Mississippi" are more hypothetical than historical, Hayden's poem "Runagate Runagate" demonstrates that these principles have been realized within the history of US race relations.
As a result, his "Runagate Runagate" is not a persona poem in any strict sense in which a single poet is writing in the voice of someone else; instead, Hayden samples multiple literary devices, slave-era materials, and song lyrics in order to present an episode in the lives of Harriet Tubman and a band of runaways.
"Runagate Runagate" serves as a testimony to Tubman's courageous leadership, as a main speaker of the poem is a passenger on Tubman's expressway from slavery to freedom.
He has recently edited the anthologies From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets (Runagate) and (with Kwame Alexander) 360 [degrees] A Revolution of Black Poets (Black Words / Runagate).
The book's final section includes readings of many of Hayden's finest poems: "Those Winter Sundays," "Perseus," "Frederick Douglass," "Middle Passage," "Runagate Runagate," "Monet's 'Waterlilies,"' and "[American Journal]." Especially suggestive here is Brian Conniff's treatment of Hayden and the African American poetic sequence.
Indeed, nearly all of the scholarship devoted to Hayden concerns his treatment of nineteenth-century subject matter in poems such as "Middle Passage," "Runagate Runagate," "The Ballad of Nat Turner," and "Frederick Douglass." Very little has been written about Hayden's nuanced appreciation of how modernist poetics are culturally contingent.
"Runagate, Runagate" shows both the presentness of the past and the entanglement of historical and imagistic themes.
It anticipates his later "Negro history" poems, including "Runagate Runagate," "The Ballad of Nat Turner," and "Frederick Douglass." It also anticipates a number of Hayden's poems in widely varied historical contexts - most notably "A Ballad of Remembrance," "Night, Death, Mississippi," "Belsen, Day of Liberation," "El-Hajj Malix El-Shabazz," and the important later sequence "Words in the Mourning Time" - in which he explores, often in brutal detail, the psychology and consequences of racism and xenophobia.
The celebrated Yoruba trickster deity Esu makes himself present in ways too numerous to recount here (e.g., the well-known story of blues singer Robert Johnson's Faustian bargain with the devil), but the reference to Harriet Tubman as an Esu-like figure (as borrowed from the Wendell Logan composition Runagate Runagate) is particularly intriguing.
(19) The itinerant preacher Dan Young recalled complaints that "the people were spending so much time in following after these [Methodist] runagates that they would raise nothing, and would have to be maintained as paupers." (20) Neglecting the ministers it was their duty to hear and neglecting the work it was their duty to perform, the followers of the Methodists went outside the settled boundaries and norms of public worship and instruction.
In the predawn hours of March 10, police roused the runagates from their beds and led them, yawning and docile, from embassy premises.