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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Bomb” asks the reader to reconsider his or her understanding of nuclear weaponry. Is the bomb the most terrible thing that humankind has ever developed, or is it the natural progression of destruction signaled by all previous human behavior, and will the progression continue until the ultimate bomb arrives? Corso is prophetic, but he is also cautionary, warning all readers and listeners that the ultimate bomb will be all-powerful and even capable of dispatching God. If Corso were to deliver this warning in a straight and serious tone, he might not hold the reader’s attention. However, Corso uses the surprise of the speaker’s declaration, “O Bomb I love you,” the comic effect of juxtapositions of the ancient and the modern, and a tumult of sound to seize the reader’s attention and make him or her think in new ways. The final turn in the poem, however, demands reflection. Is all humankind, despite the lip service people give to peace, actually courting the bomb? By adopting the lifestyle that suppresses fear, even awareness, of the pending apocalypse, do people tacitly revere the bomb?

The poem also reflects strongly on poetry and the role of the poet: Does a poem have to be printed on a standard page in a book with its lines aligned at the left margin, or can it work on the scale of an illustrative poster with its lines arranged to depict its subject? Does the poet have to strive for consistency in tone and reference, or can the poet blend ancient culture and language with contemporary references and informal idiom? Does the topic of the end of the world and the entombing of God require absolute solemnity, or can humor and playfulness successfully serve to issue an urgent warning?