Marisol’s Reading Questions for March 22nd

There were too many wonderful questions to limit them to three, so I went ahead and listed everything that I thought was applicable to ask. Feel free to pick your favorites to answer!

1. What do you make of the poem On the Belgian Expatriation? Is this poem about the shattering of innocence where songs of peace are silenced by the presence of war? What did you make of the rhyme suddenly ending when the soldiers were introduced as an end to the dancing tune? Did you notice it, whether consciously or subconsciously?

2. Why is the moon consistently considered as something that overlooks the war? It is constantly a negative signifier, whether as something judgemental like in I Looked Up From My Writing or as a symbol of a lover’s moon or a reminder of peacetimes that is then resented? Is the sun too cheery for that endeavor, or do humans focus on the moon since people typically sink into depression at night when they are getting ready to rest?

3. Was anyone surprised by Rudyard Kipling’s involvement in the war? Do you think if he had written the Jungle Book, not in 1894, but sometime during or after The Great War, that the content would somehow be different? 

4. After reading the poem For All We Have and Are and the previous books assigned for class, how do you feel about Kipling’s gung-ho attitude toward war, filled with patriotic propaganda? Could he be compared to someone like Kantorek from All Quiet on the Western Front? The poem My Boy Jack complicates this question further; clearly, Kipling is glorifying sacrifice for one’s country. Why or why not? Let’s try to dig into the nuance of this attitude as well. 

5. In the poem Justice, he writes 

“For agony and spoil

Of nations beat to dust,

For poisoned air and tortured soil

And cold, commanded lust”

Is he romanticizing the loss and agony of these men? He acknowledges their sacrifice but is this still dangerous like Kantorek’s rhetoric?

6. Binyon’s For the Fallen is evidently famous, especially his 4th stanza which reads: 

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.” 

Why do you think this specific part of the poem gained fame? Would you consider this a respectful and beautiful inscription on a tomb, or would you consider this another piece of propaganda that aided in these deaths that may be deemed unnecessary and avoidable to others?

7. Charlotte Mew suffered a tragic life, yet in her poem May, 1915 she sprinkles in great optimism. Despite this, The Cenotaph is a little darker in this regard. Would you still argue that her poem The Cenotaph is a little more realistic in terms of loss in the war since her experiences with death made her more understanding and less eager to romanticize it? Or do you think she is still guilty, like other authors, of doing so?

8. Would you say Robert Service’s Tipperary Days reads like bitter satire? Does the tone of the poem change when you learn his brother Albert died in 1916 in the war? His poem Tri-color reads far more despairingly. Would you argue that that poem shows his true feelings more than Tipperary Days?

9. Wilfrid Gibson wrote The Messages, which uses repetition and periods to draw out the sense of a traumatized and shocked mind. He wanted “the War’s tragedies in a language freed from patriotic afflatus.” Do you think this uncomfortable honesty contributed to him falling out of fashion so quickly? How well does he cover PTSD in his writings? 

10. Between the Lines by Gibson creates a poignant story with ease, capturing the awful state of war. Do you think this is impressive, considering Gibson had to imagine much since he only served clerical duties in the war? What are your thoughts on how he captured anxiety in each of his poems? Also, stars are mentioned in this poem. Why do you think celestial bodies are a main piece in many of the stories we read? The moon as a taunter and stars as hope in the darkness?

11. The repetition of stanzas and lines can be seen in Gibson’s work and Cannan’s. Why do you think that tool is used? Does it build tension and anxiety, etc? 

2 thoughts on “Marisol’s Reading Questions for March 22nd

  1. 6. I think that the 4th stanza, separated from its context, is genuinely beautiful. The idea of honoring your predecessors and relatives who have fallen, as well as those who died in combat regardless of relation, is something that has existed in many cultures for a long time. It’s also quite catchy, so it’s easier to remember than the other stanzas.

    That being said, for this reading section overall, I feel that the non-combatants writing about being in combat is kind of disrespectful – they didn’t experience it directly. They are, however, “survivors” of the war and can at least live to tell the tale, so to speak. Most media that comes out around wartime/prior to wars at the start of conflicts seems to have an increased amount of propaganda, not to mention the peacetime propaganda. I think this poem is a nice way to remember the lives that were lost, but it’s ineffective in an anti-war effort. It’s not propaganda, but it is.

  2. 2. After going through some of the poems to choose one for the final project, I decided to revist some reading questions based on the poetry. The moon interest me in “I Looked Up From My Writing” because the personification of it as a judgemental figure is almost parental. Specficially in WW1 context the moon is more applicable than the sun because so much went on at night as soldiers fought and tried to gain territory in no man’s land at night, so the moon witnesses certain horrors the sun does not. Overall, I think writers are drawn to the moon symbol because it sheds a small amount light on people when they think they are in the dark and no one is watching. As you mentioned human routine of sort of sinking into depression, I just find people pay more attention to the moon at night because people often do not have time to stare at the sun when they wake up because they have a huge list of tasks to accomplish, but people slow down and look up at night(just like the narrator of this poem!).

    9. Gibson’s “The Messages” is one that certainly stands out to me as well. While I cannot truly attest to it since it is not something I have experienced, I find his writing to impressively honor those who suffer fro PTSD. To somehow convey the feeling of still being alive but not quite as much yourself anymore is just remarkable. The soldier he depicts knows there is something he needs to say but he cannot quite get there and I find it to be such a striking, emotional description. “I cannot quite remember…There were five” with the indication of the pause is incredibly realistic as the audience has to slow down with the soldier. So many poems honor the dead, I think it is important to also read poetry like this which honros those who lost just as much even if they are still alive. Your question prompted me to check out his biography on poetry foundation’s website and I found a quote by a critic who read his work during that time “Under the impact of the greatest crisis in history, he has been not stunned to silence or babbling song, but awakened to understanding and sober speech, and thereby has proved his genius” and I think that says a lot about his work in general. It also forced me to take a step back and think about how impressive all these poets are for being able to produce the brilliance they did under such dire circumstances.

Leave a Reply