What is the tone of the section "Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind" from Stephen Crane's poem "War is Kind"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tone refers to the "perspective or attitude" an author has towards a subject matter and portrays through the content of a literary work (Literary Devices, "Tone"). Many words can be used to describe tone, some of those include accusing, arrogant, ironic, disappointed, passive, or sarcastic. In the section beginning with the sentence "Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind," from the longer poem titled "War is Kind," American poet Stephen Crane, alive during the post-Civil War years, uses a great deal of imagery and other devices to depict the total devastation of war. Yet, he also uses the refrain, "Do not weep. / War is kind." Due to the refrain and imagery, we can clearly hear a very ironic, devastated, and even bitter tone in the poem.

We know the speaker in the poem is being ironic when he tells the maiden in the poem not to weep for "[W]ar is kind" due to destructive war imagery he uses following the command. For example, he describes "[a] field where a thousand corpses lie." He also describes the maiden's father as having "tumbled in the yellow trenches, / Raged at his breast" and having "gulped and died."  Due to the death imagery in the poem, we know the speaker is not being literal when he tells the maiden not to weep because "[w]ar is kind." Instead, he means the exact opposite of what he is saying: He means that all humanity should weep over the lives lost to war and that war is vile, not kind. Since he means the exact opposite of what he says, we know he is being ironic and that his tone is full of irony.

In addition, all of the death imagery serves to show exactly how devastating the speaker believes war to be, which helps to paint his devastated tone. Plus, lines in which he speaks of the virtues of war show that he is calling into question whether or not war truly is virtuous to show instead that war actually is evil. Lines questioning the virtue of war show the speaker's bitter feelings towards war, as we see in the following lines:

Point for [the soldiers] the virtue slaughter,
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Since the speaker is still being ironic when he says those lines, we know he means the exact opposite of what he is saying--slaughter is not virtuous; killing is not excellent. If we know he is saying there is no virtue or excellence in all of the manslaughter that takes place during war, we can also hear his bitter tone.

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War Is Kind

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