The EXAM Centre War is Kind
BY Minnelle Doole
When the syllabus changed in 2015, the poem/song "Where have all the Flowers Gone" was replaced with "War is Kind" by Stephen Crane. "War is Kind" is the first poem of Stephen Crane's second collection of poems; "War is Kind and Other Lines", published in 1899, less than a year before he died. The poem is sometimes referred to by its first line, "Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind."
The poem focuses mainly on war, aftermath and its effects. In this way it echoes the stories and scenes from Crane's Civil War novel, "The Red Badge of Courage". Though Crane had been turned down because of poor health when he volunteered to enlist in the US Navy, he saw his share of war and death as a journalist, covering conflicts in Greece, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Spain.
In twenty-six lines, the persona of the poem addresses the loved ones of the soldiers who died on the battlefield amid mayhem and chaos. Crane's use of blank verse is well suited for the subject of war because it lacks the harmonious patterns of rhyme and meter.
The poem is composed of five stanzas, and the indented beginning of the second and fourth stanzas characterize a change in setting. While the first, third, and fifth stanzas focus on the survivors of dead soldiers, the indented stanzas graphically depict scenes of the battlefield. The refrain gives a structural unity to the entire poem as it consistently appears before and after each stanza: "Do not weep/War is kind." This chorus of two lines helps to connect the emotional experience with the actual experience of war. The poem's speaker, simultaneously sympathetic with the victims of war and cynical about the purposes of war, implicitly criticizes the image of the romantic hero, showing in graphic scenes the realities of battlefield death and the emotional torment it causes for those left behind.
Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
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.
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.
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.
Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.
The poem opens with a guy telling a maiden not to weep over her dead lover because war is kind; soon after, the scene changes and we're on a battlefield. The speaker remarks that the soldiers in front of him were born to drill and die; the battle-god is great, he notes.
The scene changes again and the speaker addresses a babe whose father died in a trench somewhere; he tells this little guy not to weep because, war is kind. We again visit the battlefield, where the speaker makes a number of similar remarks about the destiny of his soldiers.
In the poem's final stanza, he addresses a mother, who stares silently at the body of her son, which is covered with a shroud, "Do not weep, war is kind," he tells her.
In "War is Kind" Crane emphasizes the psychological torment that dying soldiers and their loved ones endure instead of focusing on their heroic or patriotic behaviour. He desires to present the world as he sees it rather than the way he wants it to be. Much of Crane's poetry and fiction depict how human beings behave in extreme circumstances, whether that be how the impoverished survive on the streets of New York City, how men in a lifeboat interact when faced with the prospect of drowning, or how soldiers behave while bullets and shrapnel flies around them. His deterministic philosophy, a feature of naturalism, is evident in the graphic ways he represents the soldiers' deaths. They die alone, fearful and full of rage, in a field "where a thousand corpses lie."
The poem is a very good example of irony. Verbal irony plays a major role throughout the poem. The repetition of 'Do not weep, War is kind' is used ironically to negate the idea of the glory of war.
The poet brings out two contradictory situations together. The fabricated splendour and grandeur of war by the war makers are made to face the grim realities or horrendous aspects of war. Thus he criticizes the glorification of war. Note the sarcasm evoked in 'These men were born to drill and die'. What does it criticize?
The poem creates poignancy and pathos for dying soldiers and their weeping loved ones. This illustrates that it is the ordinary masses who suffer in a war. The simile 'humble as a button' emphasizes the horror and pity of war.
The tone of the poet is critical and sarcastic. The theme involves the negation of the glorification of war. The poem surpasses time and place. It carries universality as it deals with a very common situation in the world.
• Which aspects of war are brought out in the poem?
• Note the repetition 'War is kind'. What is the tone of the poem?
• The poet brings out two contradictory situations in the poem: the grandeur of war vs. the horror of war. What is his purpose? How does he criticize the political agenda in a war?
• The last stanza evokes pathos. This final image shows the epitome of grief, as a mother cries over her dead son, the son she raised, and had all her hopes on. What message is brought out through these lines?
(Sources: The Teacher's Guide, Schmoop.com)
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