Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Shapiro never intended to be a “war poet.” His precise meaning of that statement may be broadly interpreted. War poets tend to either romanticize war or protest war. In Shapiro’s case, because he assumes the objective middle ground of the observer, much of an audience’s reading will be determined by personal sentiments and agendas. However, one should remember that Shapiro, because of his Judaism, objected in conscience to the war and would not fight in it. This did not disallow him from an active involvement as a medic, however, in the defense and support of his country.

An ongoing theme of Shapiro’s V-Letter collection and of such poems as “Troop Train” concerns the inhumanity of people. Death is the great equalizer, and all people march onward toward death. With luck, some live a little longer than others. The tragedy of war is that it hurries people toward the permanent conclusion. Death may not be an unfair part of life; however, war commissions death, and anyone who is misplaced into war submits, perhaps, to an unfair policy.