Robert Bly’s “Counting Small-Boned Bodies” is a short poem of ten lines, written in free verse and carefully divided into four stanzas. The poem initially invites the reader to participate with the speaker (or persona) in the singular action of recounting bodies. The process Bly refers to is one of counting the bodies of enemy dead following a battle, a military practice used to determine the extent of damage inflicted on the opposing force. The satire of the poem protests the Vietnam War, and more specifically the Pentagon practice of releasing body-count statistics to the press on a daily basis. The last three stanzas show the bodies shrinking and becoming ostensibly less important. Bly uses a succession of unusual metaphoric images to demonstrate the horror of trivializing death in this manner.
The title of the poem gives immediate notification that something out of the ordinary is taking place, as Bly stipulates that the bodies are small-boned, bringing images to mind of the skeleton rather than flesh and blood. The title thus suggests something other than the gory images usually associated with day-after descriptions of battle scenes. The title even reduces the size of the bodies, preparing the reader for the starker reductions that follow. The conversational tone of the first stanza involves the reader in the “we” of the remainder of the poem, setting up a tacit agreement that to read on is to participate in the experimental testing of the...
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