Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind

by Stephen Crane

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

“Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind” is a poem in Crane’s collection of poems titled War Is Kind. In this poem, Crane attempts to depict the theme of war in the emerging tradition of realism that questions the honor and glory of war heroes. Crane is a naturalist as well as a realist who repudiates the heroic tradition of Romanticism without compromising the complexity of human reality. The poem portrays the pain of separation caused by the brutality of war; therefore, Crane’s criticism is directed toward warmongers and not strictly toward the overpowering forces of nature. Furthermore, most naturalists at this time depicted natural forces in biological terms, but Crane does not discount the psychological forces that connect human reality to one’s physical surroundings and environment. Both the mourners and the dead soldiers must succumb to the supremacy of natural forces, yet the horror of the soldiers and the sorrow of the mourners are two different conditions resulting from war. In this short poem, Crane links sensory images and psychological realism to capture both the mental pain of the bereaved and the physical pain of the falling soldiers. The irony implicit in the title also illustrates the ironies latent in human reality. In this case, the irony exposes the hypocrisy of the mythic glory attributed to warring soldiers as well as the nonheroic demeanor of soldiers on the battlefield.

Although Crane uses the setting of war in many of his works, including his famous Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895), it was only a year before the publication of this poem that he personally observed war scenes. He was so strongly drawn to the setting of war that he attempted to join the United States Navy for active service in the Spanish-American War, but he was rejected. Consequently, in 1898 he became a war correspondent. In his war memoirs Crane writes, “It is because war is neither magnificent nor squalid; it is simply life, and an expression of life can always evade us. We can never tell life, one to another, although sometimes we think we can.” In this poem, Crane attempts to capture the complexity of human life as he illustrates that in the face of adversity and pain neither the magnificent flag nor the squalid dust of the trenches can eliminate the tragic pain of separation experienced by those who have lost their loved ones on the battlefield. Crane acknowledges the controlling presence of natural forces, but, as a realist, his descriptions are not restricted to external objects and sensory images; instead, he strives to include human relationships and attitudes as an integral part of human reality.

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