“War is Kind” by Stephen Crane


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.

To the maiden
The sea was blue meadow,
Alive with little froth-people
To the sailor, wrecked,
The sea was dead grey walls
Superlative in vacancy,
Upon which nevertheless at fateful time
Was written
The grim hatred of nature.

There was a man with tongue of wood
Who essayed to sing,
And in truth it was lamentable.
But there was one who heard
The clip-clapper of this tongue of wood
And knew what the man
Wished to sing,
And with that the singer was content.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

The first section of this poem begins by telling a maiden not to weep over her lover dying because war is kind. The drums book and the men prepare for battle, ruled by the battle-god. A babe is told not to weep for his dead father in the trenches for war is kind. The second stanza has the flag flying over the regiment and talks about how great war really is. A mother is told not to weep for her dead son because war is kind.

One oddity is the order of the maiden, the babe, and the mother. Why are they put in this order? They are not chronological in any way. The first two are chonological in terms of the relationship of the male to the female figure being told not to weep. The lover goes with the maiden and the father with the babe, two relationships chronologically in order.

Another interesting difference of these two male figures with the male in the second stanza is the desription of how the man dies. It is designated how the first two die, but there is no mention of the son’s actual death, just the aftermath and his “bright splendid shroud”. The son is not painted having a forward moving life to come home to- a woman to marry or a child to rear, but only his mother.

Another way to look at the tone would  be to take a more literal approach which can be done by looking at the deaths of the two soldiers in the first stanza. The lover throws his hands up to the sky in defeat. The father “tumbles in the yellow trenches, rages at his breast, gulps, and dies”. These are both deaths of cowards. The lover gives in in the end and throws up his hands, a sign of surrender. The father dies hiding in the trenches which are yellow, a color symbolic of being a coward. Perhaps Crane is intonating that war rids the world of foolish people whose sole purpose is to “drill and die”.  But what of the son? What is his sin? If examine din the lense of Plato’s Republic, it becomes apparent that just as civilization degredes as time goes on, so does its citizens. Each change in governent is brought about by a son of a man from the next highest level. Following this patter, shouldn’t the son of any man sucha s those presented in the first stanza be just as bad, if not worse than his father?

One of the most obvious changes is the difference in tone between the first and second stanzas. Slthough they are both sarcastic, the first is a bit darke rand more seroius in tis word usage with terms such as “wild”, “affrighted”, “hoarse”, “thirst”, “booming”, and “raged”. Although Crane says that war is kind and sets the soldiers “thirsting” for battle, the vocabulary sets an underlying tone of the realities of war. The sarcasm becomes more biting in the second as the word choices become much more gradiose and picturesque, such as “swift blazing”, “eagle”, “red and gold”, “virtue”, “excellence”,  and “bright splendid”. This is the more commercialized painting of war and the side more utilized to fuel support. This is the view of war seen as “liberating” and “noble”- generally the type of view the government uses to rally support. To be involved in a war feels neither liberating a noble once you’re there, but those unable to see it may be coerced to believe it.

This idea ties in with part three. Part three paints two very juxtaposed visions of the sea. The maiden sees it as a blue, lively meadow full of “froth-people”. The sailor views it as dead, gray walls, completely vacant of company and life. This reflects the exact same point. The sailor, who is emerged in his work and job, is alone with it long enough to discover the truth passed what people generally romanticize. The maiden, on the other hand, is detached enough to take the full brunt of the idealism. She loves nature and the spirit of the sea because she can go hide away nice and safe when the ocean rears its ugly head. The sailer, on the other hrarnd, must brave it all the time.

Part sixteen is about a man with a wooden tongue who tries to sing, but it sounds pathetic. However, another man understands what the other is trying to sing, and the man with the wooden tongue is content. This poem is about finding the one who shares the same view as you and is able to understand your emotions and ideas even passed your outer disabilities and limitaitons like a wooden tongue. Life is all about finding someone who understands the song of a man with a wooden tongue or someone who gets why the ocean is like gray walls. That is what makes human communication essential, the need to not feel so completely alone, to pass on the struggles and realities of war and life on a deeper level than is generally betrayed.

The last selection I looked at, section twenty one, is the final portrait of the human relationship with society and the world around it. A man tells the universe that he exists, but the universe, who is male, does not seem to feel at all concerned or obligued to do anything about it. This is the quiet reminder at the end of how infinitely small humans are in the cope of things. Even though a person can find company within society, his real father, the universe, really wants nothing to do with him. The male voice of the universe could imply either a father role or a connection to the male figure in the first section of the poem. But is the universe parallel to one of the figures or the war god? The god role seems to make sense, creating a picture of a violent, uncaring god who is hungry for war and does not care so miuch of the fate of the individuals. Although following the trend of two different views of everything perhaps the male figures were actually uncaring cowards two


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Meghan on February 25, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    I thought your way of looking at the cowardly way the men died was interesting, I didn’t even notice that at first, then when I did I thought about how maybe it was saying that war makes all men cowards – that gallantry is impossible. This seems pretty similar to what you were saying

    I also thought it was pretty impressive that you managed to weave together all the different sections and find things in common. 🙂


  2. Posted by forsparta on March 9, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Even though the last bit is about the insignificance of one person, the universe still answers. The universe could have left the question totally open and ignored the guy who was shouting.


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