Have fun with the poem by trying this...
Think about the strong images of miners walking home, and the moon over farm land, before finding out anything about the time and the place Margaret Walker is writing about. This is a sonnet- a poem of 14 lines, split into 8 (the octet) and 6 (the sestet) lines. What do you notice about the language in the sestet - where are the words of sadness used most? Each time you come across a word suggesting sadness, say it a little quieter than you did the last one, so that when you get to ‘bitter’ in the last line, your voice is barely audible, as if it is also being ‘washed away’. Do a little research into this poet to find out the time she is writing about and what tragedy that part of the world had seen, as shown in the poem.
When I was a child I knew red miners
dressed raggedly and wearing carbide lamps.
I saw them come down red hills to their camps
dyed with red dust from old Ishkooda mines.
Night after night I met them on the roads,
or on the streets in town I caught their glance;
the swing of dinner buckets in their hands,
and grumbling undermining all their words.
I also lived in low cotton country
where moonlight hovered over ripe haystacks,
or stumps of trees, and croppers’ rotting shacks
with famine, terror, flood, and plague near by;
where sentiment and hatred still held sway
and only bitter land was washed away.