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"Lament" by Gillian Clarke, uses a variety of poetic devices to describe the many faces of war, all of which she mourns.
Ms. Clarke makes the following comment about her poem:
‘Lament’ is an elegy, an expression of grief. It can be a sad, military tune played on a bugle. The poem uses the title as the start of a list of lamented people, events, creatures and other things hurt in the war, so after the word ‘lament’, every verse, and 11 lines, begin with ‘for’.
War can’t be waged without grave damage to every aspect of life. All the details in the poem came from reports in the media. There were newspaper photographs of cormorants covered with oil - ‘in his funeral silk’. ‘The veil of iridescence on the sand’ and ‘the shadow on the sea’ show the spreading stain of oil from bombed oil wells. The burning oil seemed to put the sun out, and poisoned the land and the sea. The ‘boy fusilier who joined for the company,’ and ‘the farmer’s sons, in it for the music’, came from hearing radio interviews with their mothers. The creatures were listed by Friends of the Earth as being at risk of destruction by oil pollution, and ‘the soldier in his uniform of fire’ was a horrific photograph of a soldier burnt when his tank was bombed. The ashes of language are the death of truth during war
"The soldier in his uniform of fire" refers to a soldier burning when his vehicle is bombed. This is an example of a metaphor.
"The cormorant in his funeral silk" uses personification to describe death surrounding the bird, describing that it has put on funeral garb in death's wake.
"The veil of iridescence on the sand" is imagery that describes the oil slick on the sand from ships being bombed in the water and washing up on the shore (or "bombed oil wells"). (Kuwait lies on the edge of the Persian Gulf.)
"...the sun put out" is an example of hyperbole. It would be impossible to do so: this is figurative language, not to be taken literally, and probably refers to the smoke from bombings that seems to obliterate the sun before the dust settles.
"For the ocean's lap with its mortal stain" uses onomatopoeia with the use of "lap," which brings to mind that constancy of the ocean, forever moving even in spite of war, but not unchanged ("mortal stain").
"For [the green turtle's eggs] laid in their nest of sickness" is a paradox, a contradiction: a nest is supposed to be a safe place where eggs can rest with their mother until they hatch; with the war raging, the nest is a dangerous place.
All of these devices are used to bring pictures to the mind of the reader so that they might visualize what the poet saw in reports on the Gulf War. The devastation is far-reaching, touching not only the humans pitted against one another, but also the earth and its "other occupants."
The poem has a haunting affect on the reader because the images are so vivid. Those damaged by war are brought to the forefront of the reader's mind, and the powerful verse leaves the reader shaken and touched, by things occurring half a world away.
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