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Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
The Poem starts off with sarcasm. The whole poem is based on sarcasm. Its as if there is no other way to effectively capture the destruction and devastation caused by war. There is an imperative used (Do Not Weep) which sounds like a command, ordering the maiden to be silent. Even the act of mourning seems to be denied to the young girl.
One would think that this is an attempt to comfort a mourning woman – but ironically, it rubs salt in the wound because there is no solace whatsoever to be offered. There is no consolation. Nothing can numb the pain and loss and the other ramified consequences of war.
The repetition of this statement at the end of the stanza emphasizes the assertion made by the speaker – it is a complete denial of reality. It refuses to perceive war for what it is. The statement refuses to let the maiden bereave her loss. When the verb ‘is’ is used, that usually asserts a reality. Here, the nature of war and its reality is given expression by the speaker. It is the manipulation of truth. It is the portrayal of war as something which is the complete opposite of what it is. War, in reality, as we know, is nothing but kind. Rather, most would agree that war is cruel, not kind. But by asserting a ridiculous proposition – War is Kind – the writer attempts to reveal a certain mechanism which paints war in a distorted way. It is about the romanticizing of war – the glorification of dying for the nation – the consolidation of the concept of martyr, or war-hero. These ideologies seek to promulgate how war is something honourable. The horrors of war are swept under the carpet of the ‘unexplained glory’ that ‘flies above them.’
The poem mentions four groups of people who are affected by war. The Maiden, the Baby, the Mother and the Soldiers (or young boys and men). This emphasizes the fact that it is not only in the battlefield that the destruction and violence occurs. The effects of it are carried over to the whole society. A generation of children growing up without fathers – a generation of women become young widows – a generation of mothers (and fathers) would become parents forever haunted by the death of their sons. The whole society suffers as a result of war. It is a violence which spreads through the whole nation. And the implication is, that this violence does not end with the end of the war – it carries on in the absences of the ones they loved.
The maiden represents all the women who wait for their lovers with whom they had dreamed of a future – a life and family of their own. But the men have died in the battle field. All the dreams of youth are shattered and lives are thrown into chaos.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
The conjunction ‘Because‘ assumes a link to the first statement. War is kind because your lover died in desperation. The kindness of war is justified by the death of the loved one. This amplifies the sarcasm introduced in the first line of the poem. Why does the writer insist upon such a preposterous notion? How can war be kind because it causes the death of a young lover full of hope, dreams, aspirations and potential? This excessive sarcasm leaves the reader in confusion or denial of the poem as too bluntly sarcastic – however, it is interesting to note that it makes the reader think deeply about what War actually is, and how we perceive it. The uniting of extremely different concepts work to create contrast. We call it JUXTAPOSITION. The kindness which is insisted upon, and the violence that is portrayed in the poem creates ample friction, forcing the reader to look at the face of war painted on the canvas of kindness. This contrast works effectively to expose the ridiculouness of war, and the insistence of the idea that war is patriotic and honourable.
‘Wild hands in the sky’ conjures a picture of someone praying in desperation. It can be seen as an allusion to another religious image (the poem is littered with religious imagery), and may suggest the futility of seeking divine protection during war. It also points us to the reality that it is the young men who are ‘born to drill and die’ who will meet this fate. The ones who make the decisions, the rich and the powerful will be safe in their palaces and mansions. For the young men with their future ahead of them, with their lovers waiting for them, it is a dreadful.
This line resonates with a number of other war poems which speak of how religion and the solace it provides is used as a way to numb the devastation and the brutality of war. Marx famously said that ‘religion is the opium of the people.’ It has a certain way of sedating the logical/rational thinking of the human mind. The poem shows how young men are trained to go to war, and made to believe that it is their honourable and glorious duty to die for their country – ‘dulce e decorum est’.
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
The destruction to nature is briefly mentioned in these lines. Since the poet lived and wrote about 19th century warfare, horses or cavalry were a major part of war strategy. These animals are also used in warfare and many would die because of it. In the same vein, it can lead to an argument about the affect war has upon the environment.
The poet repeats the last two lines like some sort of mantra, or chant. This once again resonates religious chants.
Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
The drums are personified. It is as if they have a voice which has become hoarse because of being over-used. The word booming suggests aggression and violence. The message it sends out is forceful and it is continuously repeated. The regiment drums work to drill order and discipline into the soldiers. The drum assumes a certain authority as they are used by the commanding officers.
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The phrase ‘little souls’ connote a certain innocence – a lack of knowledge. They are not aware of their real futility of war. The poem suggests that they ‘thirst for fight.’ This is an ironical statement which follows the ridiculous ironic statements used in the poem to rattle the reader’s mind.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
This line admits the presence of a glory that is evasive – unexplained. There is a mysteriousness behind the glory that is given. Usually things that are covered in mystery are done when there is something to hide. Even in this case, what the poet is suggesting is that there is no real glory – there is only death and destruction. Yet, young men are brainwashed into an obsession about dying for the country – they are made to believe that this would be glorious and honourable. It is a evasive glory, which never really lands upon them or touches them. It always flies above them. In reality, if you read the history books, you would read about Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Winston Churchill and many other leaders who were great at war. But you will never know the people who lost their lives, loves, dreams and everything else. There is no real glory for the people who die for their country. There may be the off chance that they receive some award or badge (after their death most of the time). But this will be forgotten with the family.
Therefore, it is evident that the mysterious glory is nothing but another tactic used by the government and the ones in power to lure young men into battle, while they sit in comfort in their luxury mansions with added security. No matter how hard we try to cover the destruction and pointlessness of war with a vague and false sense of glory and honour, in reality, war is nothing but destruction.
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom—
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
In these lines the poet directly alludes to religious imagery, juxtaposing images of religion with images of violence. This is reminiscent of Big Match, 1983, which also uses this technique in a slightly different way. In Yasmine Gooneratne’s poem, religion is used as a background (temple and holy mountain / paradise / beneath a bo-tree) which contrasts with the violence described in visceral imagery. In ‘War is Kind,’ religious imagery is not just a background, but is built into the vocabulary of war, fusing religion and violence together – violence is described in the language of religion. The effect created is a demystification of religion; the use of religion and religious ideologies to gloss over (cover up) the atrocities of war is exposed. ‘Great is the battle-god’ imitates the phrases used in Christianity which declares the greatness of God. The poet adds a minor but rattling twist to the phrase and rephrases God with ‘battle’ god. This points to the reverence that is given to an entity as destructive as war.
The Kingdom of God is evoked – another significant phrase in Christianity. This kingdom which belongs to war is littered with corpses – thousands of it. The irony is that in Christianity, the Kingdom of heaven would connote eternal life, peace, joy and justice, whereas in the battle kingdom it is full of death, hatred, hopelessness and despair. This is another example of how the writer uses religious imagery and language to illuminate the destruction of war.
Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
The poet addresses the babe (this device is called apostrophe – where the speaker addresses someone who is not present in the poem). The poet mentions a little baby, whose father has died in battle. The visual imagery used in this stanza is vivid and disturbing. Telling this to little baby is such a crude, inhuman and ruthless act. This reflects the brutality of war; war is not gentle in its destruction. It destroys with ruthlessly. The word ‘kind’ haunts these lines as a mockery of the destruction and trauma that war causes.
Swift, blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
The flag symbolizes the ideology that the regiment advocates. These are tools which are used to justify and glamorize war. Blazing has two distinct meanings.
The first – shine brightly or powerfully.
The second – fire a gun repeatedly or continuously.
These capture the glorification of war and violence. The flag of the regiment blazes above all the soldiers, symbolizing that they are all under its command – or the command of what the flag stands for.
The eagle symbolizes the many things such as victory and power, and the red and gold symbolizes courage and glory. The irony is that the previous stanza mocks this glory by portraying how the soldiers die in th yellow trenches – yellow symbolize death and decay, unlike gold which symbolizes glory. The glory which is said to accompany war is a myth behind which lies the truth – death and decay.
These men were born to drill and die.
Point for them the virtue of slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
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