the contrast from childlike naivety to inhumane ignorance

The use of sarcasm and satire word choices in Sweet Meat Has Sour Sauce by William Cowper allows readers to view the poem through simpler ideas despite the underlying theme being such a societally heavy topic. This poem calls out society’s acceptance to slavery and more importantly, their ignorance in understanding the evil in slavery because of their choice to be oblivious to them. I want to hone in on the first stanza. The use of the word “trader” is used with double meaning. This word draws the reader into understanding the speaker’s occupation, but in reality, also is a note to the speaker’s character. “Trader” is also interpreted as “traitor”, showing how the reader is so disloyal to the African shore that they are harming it. The word “traitor” holds deeper levels of betrayal, especially because you can’t betray something without already having an established trust or responsibility to it. Although the speaker may not be from the African shore, the pre-established trust or responsibility there is to the people of the African shore. That pre-established responsibility is there because the speaker (a human) has the pre-established responsibility to other human beings. 

There is also heavier irony in the third line, “I’ll sing you a song which you ne’er heard before.” (619). This line has elements of sarcasm that play into the intentional irony in this poem. The messages of this poem being reduced to the simple expression of a “song” conveys this childlike naivety. This feeling is significant because it exaggerates an assumed stupidity for the audience that the speaker is talking to, and by doing this, the speaker is also calling the audience (the society that accepts slavery) stupid (for lack of a better word). 

The most recurring showcase of sarcasm/satire is the repetition at the end of each stanza that says, “Which nobody can deny, deny, | Which nobody can deny!” There is a tune to these lines that plays into the theme of childlike naivety, and similar to line 3, the concept of song being used as a tool to convey this childlike naivety. This use of repetition is also used to engrave this naivety into every section of the poem. This is important because it shows how the structure of this poem is set to express the contrast from childlike naivety to inhumane ignorance.

3 thoughts on “the contrast from childlike naivety to inhumane ignorance”

  1. I really appreciate your analysis of this poem, as the contrast between the poem’s form/rhyme scheme and its actual content leaves so much room for interpretation. I was particularly interested by your description of the poem’s tone being one of “childlike naivety”. While you pulled strong evidence to support this claim- such as the use of the refrain “which nobody can deny, deny”- I wonder if a racial or postcolonial lens might complicate your main claim; for example, do the elements of rhyme, irony, and song indicate actual naivety regarding the evils of slavery, or chosen naivety? This might be a minor detail, but it might be interesting to explore the use of “childlike naivety” to undercut or excuse “inhumane ignorance”.

  2. As you touch on the confliction, or contrast between form and meaning in this poem, I appreciate your analysis given that I think that this aspect in relation to the meaning cannot be understated. I like how you compared the singsong feel to the poem, as well as the repetition to a sort of childlike naivety of the reader, as the poem addresses a horrific topic, but is juxtaposed by a catchy, and song-like form. Your interpretation of the double meaning of “trader” was so interesting given that I had never really thought of that. Also, the fact that one of the titles is “Slave Trader in the Dumps”, makes me agree in that the term “Trader” could definitely be significant in the meaning of the poem.

  3. I find your understanding of Cowper’s poem, “Sweet Meat Has Sour Sauce,” to be quite interesting. I am particularly interested in the importance you place on the trader’s/traitor’s obligation to the people that belong to the African shore. I think that there is much to be explored in terms of the trader’s morality and what his ethical responsibilities are to the enslaved people that he is selling for his own monetary gain. As a human being, it is his responsibility to treat other people with respect and dignity, and yet he clearly has not done this. What are the larger implications surrounding him and his character? I wonder what could be made of this reading if it was discussed through a psychoanalytic perspective.

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