Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind

by Stephen Crane

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The Poem

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“Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind” is Stephen Crane’s poem about war and its aftermath. In twenty-six lines, the persona of the poem addresses the loved ones of the soldiers who died on the battlefield amid mayhem and chaos. Crane’s use of blank verse is well suited for the subject of war because it lacks the harmonious patterns of rhyme and meter. The poem is composed of five stanzas, and the indented beginning of the second and fourth stanzas characterize a change in setting. While the first, third, and fifth stanzas focus on the survivors of dead soldiers, the indented stanzas graphically depict scenes of the battlefield. The refrain gives a structural unity to the entire poem as it consistently appears before and after each stanza: “Do not weep./ War is kind.” This chorus of two lines helps to connect the emotional experience with the actual experience of war.

The poem begins with the pain of separation between a maiden and her lover who died on the battlefield. To heighten the tragic effect, the persona describes the last moment of the dying lover who “threw wild hands toward the sky” in a frantic state as he fell from his horse while “the affrighted steed ran on alone.” A perceptive reader will note the ambivalent tone of the persona: On one hand, there is sympathy for the maiden’s unfulfilled love; on the other hand, there is sympathy for the soldier’s agony whose death marks a moment of escape from the painful state of psychological terror and physical injury.

In the third stanza, after the refrain, the poet presents another scene of tragic separation with the regiment’s drums in the backdrop to cue the reader about a battle scene. Intensifying the emotional effect of the tragic separation, the speaker addresses the fatherless “babe.” Again, the graphic description of the dying soldier as he tumbles “in the yellow trenches” suggests an ambivalent attitude on the part of the speaker. His fall in death makes a mockery of the glorious display of the regiment’s flag with its eagle and flashing colors of red and gold. Marching behind this flag, the dying soldiers cannot rise to heroic heights because they are like wounded animals who are guided by instincts of rage and fear. Furthermore, the persona ridicules “the virtue of slaughter” that is exalted by the regiment as it trains soldiers to “drill and die.” The ambivalence between tragic separation and a sense of relief amid a setting of death and destruction is also evoked through the contrasting images of the sunshine in the “yellow trench” of the fallen soldier’s grave site and “slaughter” on the battlefield that creates a field “where a thousand corpses lie.”

In the last stanza, the speaker addresses the mother of a dead soldier who is being honored as a hero by his regiment. Unlike stanzas 1 and 3, this stanza is not followed by a graphic depiction of her son’s dying moment. In this instance, the refrain echoes a reminder to the reader that the last moment of this soldier must have been marked with the same tragic moment of pain and panic that is the lot of the regiment’s men “who drill and die.” The “splendid shroud” of the regiment evokes the contrast between the brutality of the battlefield and the relief that comes to the embattled and wounded soldiers in the form of death.

Forms and Devices

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The title of the poem resonates with irony as it juxtaposes tears with kindness and invites the reader to connect the brutal image of...

(This entire section contains 451 words.)

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war to a kind reality despite the brutal setting of a battlefield. Although the poet does not address the readers directly, he allows them to witness scenes of tragic separation between the maiden and her lover, between the child and the father, and between the mother and her son to enhance the ironic effect. The irony of the poem contrasts the expected reaction of the mourners who suffer the pangs of separation with the unexpected outcome for the fallen soldiers who are freed from their emotional and physical trauma by death. The pervasive sense of loss for a loved one makes the title sound like an understatement, thus announcing the ironic intent of the author. At the same time, the psychological and physical condition of the falling soldiers ridicules the notion of romantic heroism that disregards the realism of the battlefield where the presence of death can promise relief.

In addition to the contrasting images, which contribute to the ironic effect, Crane makes powerful use of symbol and simile to enhance the realism of the tragic outcome of war. Images such as the “wild hands” of the soldier mounted on “the affrighted steed” and “booming drums” symbolize the emotional state of men who are in a state of panic, anger, and fear. In the last stanza, the mourning mother’s “heart hung humble as a button” is a simile reiterating the sorrow and helpless condition of a woman whose son has been snatched from her. The juxtaposition of the mourning mother’s pain with the heroic farewell and “the splendid shroud” of her son frames the question of the “unexplained glory” claimed by the military’s regiment. The contrast between romantic glory and the reality of war is also reinforced by a sarcastic tone as the poet personifies the great “Battle-God” with his “Kingdom” that consists of corpses.

The ambivalent attitude of the persona toward the tragic theme of separation confirms Crane’s naturalist trend in portraying the changing phases and faces of natural forces. However, for Crane the natural cycle of events encompasses both benign and malignant forces that contribute to the complexity of the human condition. Because Crane incorporates nature’s role in an ambivalent manner, it is difficult to blame nature as the source of tragedy in human life. In fact, the alternating shift from dialogue to description in the poem allows the poet to emphasize the ambivalence of the persona’s attitude toward war. Ultimately, death appears as a tragic experience for the bereaved, yet it marks a moment of relief from pain.


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