Provide a critical summary of Bob Dylan's poem "John Brown."

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Bob Dylan's "John Brown" depicts the price of war, in this case, the Vietnam War. The song follows a young man who is sent to fight in Vietnam, and his mother at first is proud and eager for him to win medals. When he comes back blind and injured, they are both disillusioned about war and no longer see it as something to be proud of as he drops his medals into his mother's hands. In general, the tone of the song goes from optimistic to pessimistic. 


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A critical summary of these lyrics would, of course, include a discussion of the meaning of the poem as discussed in the answer above. However, it should also include a discussion of Dylan's link to literature. That is, he felt that he should “sing songs like an entire book, but only in a few verses.” In critically delving into the lyrics of "John Brown," it is obvious that Dylan is relating the story of the effects of the Vietnam War upon the individual soldier. This anti-war motif has been prevalent and made popular by poets such as Wilfred Owen (WWI) in poems such as "Dulce Et Decorum Est" (translated as "it is sweet and honorable"; this is part of the longer phrase "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," which is translated as "it is sweet and honorable to die for one's country"). In the Owen poem, the horrors of war are linked ironically to the poem's title.

Thus, the mother's pride in verse three ("That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know") is ironically juxtaposed to the end of the poem in verse eight: “Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done. How is it you come to be this way? ... And the mother had to turn her face away." In this way Dylan illustrates war as inglorious and emphasizes the price that soldiers pay for "glory." This song and many others show Dylan's “profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical composition of extraordinary poetic power” and showcase his power as a social commentator.

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"John Brown" is a song written by popular songwriter John Dylan in 1962 in response to the Vietnam War. Although it was not included in his early studio albums, it was performed publicly and was included in a few compilations and demo tapes. In writing a 600-word essay about the song, one might begin by describing the context of the Vietnam War and the involvement of folksingers in protests against it. Dylan himself, in particular, rose to prominence as part of an anti-war movement and wrote many songs about the topic.

"John Brown" consists of twelve four-line stanzas with one-line stanzas inserted after the fourth, seventh, and tenth main stanzas. It is written in a manner imitating a traditional folk ballad. The stanzas rhyme ABCB. The poem uses a four-beat line with an irregular number of unstressed syllables. 

The poem is a narrative about a young man, John Brown, who becomes a soldier, heads off to Vietnam, and then returns after having been wounded. It is narrated in the third person, with extended sections of dialogue between John and his mother. It follows in the tradition of writing about the return home of a disabled soldier, which was pioneered by World War I poets like Wilfred Owen.

The poem begins by describing the mother's pride at her son becoming a soldier. She sends him off and receives letters which seem upbeat in tone; she shares her pride with her neighbors. Next, the letters cease for 10 month, and then her son returns home, badly wounded. The son describes his growing disillusionment with war and how he began to realize that the "enemies" were just young boys like himself. At the end of the song, he drops his medals in his mother's hand and limps away. 

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