Analysis of War is Kind by Stephen Crane

 

Stephen Crane was born in 1871 and passed away in 1900. He is one of the most influential realist writers in America. He had first-hand experience of war as a war reporter. Crane's poem of five stanzas takes us right into the heart of the battle capturing the cruelty of war. He sharply focuses the scenes of dying soldiers. In each stanza, the poet seems to console the mourners in an ironical tongue.

 

Overview:

Point of view: 2nd person (like a lecture)

Rhyme scheme: irregular (free verse)

Theme: futility of war

Tone: ironic

Main techniques: irony, refrain (repetition of the same line – and here its purpose is to evoke irony)

 

Reading through Lines:

 

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind

Because your lover threw wild hands towards the sky

And the affrighted steed ran on alone

Do not weep

War is kind.

 

Irony: war is kind

paradox: war is kind (seemingly absurd; but war may be kind to certain parts who are actually benefited by war)

metaphor: wild hands (actions without control)

visual imagery: affrighted steed

kinesthetic imagery: threw wild hands towards the sky, affrighted steed ran on alone

imperative: do not weep

 

The speaker addresses an unmarried woman consoling her about her (probably) dead soldier lover. His reasoning on this matter is quite ironic; as it does not glorify the way the soldier died. The soldier’s behavior does not display anything heroic nor it does not show that war has been kind to him. The explanation is seemingly not worthy enough for a dead soldier in the battlefield. Through this insignificant treatment, poet may try not to glorify the war but to show that a soldier is also a victim of war not a hero. The repeated statements (refrain: ‘do not weep’, ‘war is kind’) may suggest the way how the authorities try to cover up the real truth behind war. Through repeated preaches, they try to rationalize deaths in a warfare.

 

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment

Little souls who thirst for fight

These men were born to drill and die

The unexplained glory flies above them

Great is the battle god, great and his kingdom

A field where a thousand corpses lie.

 

onomatopoeia: booming drums

metaphor: little souls (soldiers are introduced as little souls; who possess of little virtues on the other hand immaturity of soldiers is suggested: as in common, most soldiers enrolled to military forces are quite young.)

alliteration: drill and die, god, great (harsh; shows the hollowness of the lives of soldiers and warfare)

oxymoron: unexplained glory (glory has a unique meaning; the modifier unexplained is quite contradictory to be put together: it questions what really the glory is.)

allusion: battle god (May be suggestive of the battle god, Mars in Greek Mythology)

hyperbole: a thousand corpses

visual imagery: a field where thousand corpses lie.

personification: unexplained glory flies above them. (that means the soldiers cannot reach the glory they were so tempted to achieve.)

word pun: lie, hoarse (a battlefield may be a false depiction of victory but a place that hides the truth of trauma and destruction of lives/ hoarse has similar sound to horse: it connects the poem to the previous stanza as well as the sound of horses.)

 

Poet demonstrates a series of statements to override the stereotype glorified effect on the warring and soldiers. He introduces the drumming which is used to increase the moral of soldiers as a harsh, unhealthy sound and further, soldiers are degraded as ‘little souls’ and mechanical robots who are programmed to kill enemies and destroy themselves during the course. And further he seems to be questioning: ‘What is really the glory that you’re boasting of war?” and ironically contrasts the great kingdom of the god of battle as ‘a field where a thousand corpses lie.’ (That means the battle field is not that a beautiful place that is illustrated in the minds of people in the society.) Through these degrading, poet openly ridicules the act 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.

 

color symbol: yellow is a color symbol for deceit and cowardice. (It shows the unhealthy condition of trenches; in reality most soldiers died of diseases due to unhealthy conditions of trenches)

kinesthetic imagery: raged at his breast, gulped and died.

 

Again, by showing the agonized fate of a soldier in an unhealthy trench, the poet tries to unveil the reality of the lives of soldiers and further, shows that the soldiers do not get an honorable death in the battlefield. The way the speaker tries to console a baby by narrating of the way his father died is quite ironic.

 

Swift blazing flag of the regiment

Eagle with crest of red and gold

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.

 

visual imagery: swift blazing flag, eagle with crest of red and gold

oxymoron: virtue of slaughter, excellence of killing (the teachings for a soldier to condition their mind for killing: drill)

symbol: eagle (eagle is a bird of prey/eagle may be war and who might be its prey?)

repetition: and a field where a thousand corpses lie/these men were born to drill and die

 

This stanza reveals what are the factors that attract the people to join military forces and practice killing. They may be the outer glory of flags, badges and outfits as well as the praises, preaches and awards they get for killing.  However, the poet critically explains how soldiers are mechanically programmed for killing and further shows the the mass destruction of lives in a battle.  

 

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button

On the bright splendid shroud of your son

Do not weep

War is kind

 

simile: humble as a button

oxymoron: splendid shroud (a solder is given a splendid funeral but can it cover up the loss of a life?)

visual imagery: heart hung as a button, bright splendid shroud

alliteration: heart hung humble (heaviness of heart/feeling)

 

The poet shows how a pain of a mother is confined to something insignificant like ‘a button’. Though the mother’s heart is heavy with sadness, she is compelled to accept the death of her son humbly as they say: ‘war is kind’. The poet contrasts the loss of the mother to the futile value given to it (in order to achieve a false-glory over a death of a soldier.)

This poem is about the unseen real face of war which can only offer death and pain to everyone who are in and off the battlefield. He asks the reader to see the suffocated tears in the eyes of the victims of war for whom war has not been kind. His ironical lines urges reader to see the grim reality of war and ask the world not to go for a futile war which is never kind.  

 

You may like to read: Is war kind? A reply to Stephen Crane

 

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