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The poem "War Is Kind" presents the horrors of war through its powerful and graphic imagery, while continually repeating the verbal irony "War is kind" to show the ways we try to lie to ourselves about war and its true consequences.
In the opening stanza, the poem's speaker urges the grieving maiden, "Do not weep," despite the fact that her "lover threw wild hands/toward the sky/and the affrighted steed ran on alone." This is a grim posture of death, but we are supposed to believe, as the second stanza states:
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 is kingdom--
A field where a thousand corpses lie.
This infers that men should be proud to die in service to their countries - this is what they were born for - and women should be glad to give up their sons, lovers, and husbands to such a glorious cause. However, the irony of the words "War is kind" keeps coming back, leading the reader to conclude that this is not truly how the author feels or what he believes.
In the third stanza, the speaker tells the babe that neither should he weep, though his "father tumbles/in the yellow trnches" and though he "raged ... gulped and died" in his final moments. He died, presumably, a hero - and therefore, his family should not weep. They should, instead, be proud of his sacrifice.
The fourth stanza repeats the idea that "these men were born to drill and die," this time expanding on the idea, saying that there is "virtue" in slaughter and "excellence" in killing - though, the final image of "a field where a thousand corpses lie" again leads the reader to conclude that war is a horrendous and terrible act.
The final stanza addresses the "Mother whose heart (hangs) humble as a button/on the bright splendid shroud of (her son)." This final image shows the epitome of grief, as a mother cries over her dead son, having to say goodbye to the child she bore, the son she raised, the man on whom her hopes rested. War is not truly kind - it steals joy, security, peace, and loved ones.
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