Ivor Gurney

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What impact does war have on an individual in Ivor Gurney's poetry?

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In "To England - A Note," Gurney describes how war can take a physical toll on the individual soldiers. For example, he describes one solider "under a burden bent / Of ammunition." This image of a soldier literally bending beneath the weight of the ammunition also works on a metaphorical...

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In "To England - A Note," Gurney describes how war can take a physical toll on the individual soldiers. For example, he describes one solider "under a burden bent / Of ammunition." This image of a soldier literally bending beneath the weight of the ammunition also works on a metaphorical level, whereby the ammunition represents the war in a general sense, weighing the soldier down and pushing him to buckle beneath its weight. In the same poem, Gurney also presents the idea that the individual soldiers are always haunted by the specter of death. Indeed, the "shadowing wings / Of Death" are "ever-present," like a gigantic carrion bird circling overhead, waiting for the life below to finally exhaust itself.

In "The Target," Gurney presents the idea that war can make an individual feel isolated, abandoned, and hopeless. The speaker says that, during the war, "God keeps still, and does not say / A word of guidance anyway." The implication here is that war seems amoral, and outside of even God's comfort. Later in the poem, the speaker says that "God ... takes no sort of heed." The implication here is that God has abandoned the soldiers and left them to fend for themselves in the "bloody mess" of the battlefields. One might also infer that the absence of God is inevitably linked to a feeling of hopelessness and despair.

In "Pain," Gurney explores the misery and anguish that an individual experiences in war. War is monotonous and oppressive and drains, metaphorically, all of the warmth and color out of life. This is evident when Gurney writes that "Grey monotony lend[s] / Weight to the grey skies, grey mud ... grey bedrenched scarecrows in rows." The repetition of the word "grey" emphasizes the idea that war is, to the individual, oppressive, monotonous, cold, and lifeless.

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