Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Bly calls on his personal imagination to create the stages the bodies pass through as they are made smaller. By contrasting the concrete images of plain, desk, and ring with the surreal idea of shrinking the bodies, he heightens the satire. Readers can see that the Pentagon method of scoring progress in the war really does make the bodies smaller, the deaths less important, and the enemy something other than human. Indeed, Bly makes his view clear that the body-count method of tracking the progress of the war is evil.

While death has always been a result of war, previous methods of calculating progress in conflict involved measuring geographic territory taken and held. This proved to be impossible in Vietnam for several reasons, the main one being that in a guerilla war in a jungle setting, the enemy can return and may at any time be only a few feet away. In addition, the United States forces found it difficult to distinguish between civilians and soldiers, Vietnamese allies and Viet Cong enemies.

Because honors were meted out to American units based on their reporting of body counts, such statistics were often inflated—in fact, a “partial body count” process was created to help make U.S. forces appear superior. Disparaging comparisons were made between body counts and baseball scores. Bly read “Counting Small-Boned Bodies” and other antiwar poems during rallies and readings, often while wearing a frightening patriarchal mask. He...

(The entire section is 444 words.)