The opening line of “i sing of Olaf glad and big” announces the poet’s intention: to sing, to celebrate, the greatness of an individual who bravely defies convention and who heroically dies because of his act of rebellion. Olaf’s “warmest heart recoiled at war,” so he became a conscientious objector, subjecting himself to cruel harassment at the hands of a “trig westpointer”—a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Like the Delectable Mountains in The Enormous Room, Olaf stands his ground and announces to his tormentor that he will not kiss the flag that he represents.
Described as “a conscientious object-or,” Olaf becomes an “object” to the officers who treat him as cruelly as the plantons treated the prisoners in La Ferté Mace. Olaf continues in his opposition to war, however, and is thrown into prison for his defiant stance. His tragic, heroic death causes the poet to sing his praises and to question conventional notions of courage: “unless statistics lie he was/ more brave than me: more blond than you.”