Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“After Our War” is about the possibility of meaning in the world, about a generation of people who question whether either meaning or love is possible after the Vietnam War. Balaban’s use of lips in lines 3 and 18 suggests that speech or words are inadequate for expressing the experience of the war. The closing four lines of the poem raise questions about this inadequacy:

After the war, with such Cheshire cats grinning in our trees,will the ancient tales still tell us new truths?Will the myriad world surrender new metaphor?After our war, how will love speak?

Balaban questions whether “ancient tales” can hold adequate answers for the world after the war. Although he looks for new truths, it seems unlikely that the texts and language that spoke so eloquently in the past will have anything to say in this new world. In this questioning, Balaban seems to connect himself to World War I poet Wilfred Owen, who rejected the “old lie,” that it is fitting and sweet to die for one’s country, in his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” In line 24 Balaban introduces the notion of “metaphor,” which is a figure of speech. Again, he questions whether the world, in all its variety, will offer language capable of describing life and capable of imparting meaning after our war.

Finally, in...

(The entire section is 472 words.)