Themes and Meanings
Shapiro never intended to be a “war poet” because it was not his design either to celebrate war or to disparage it. Rather, he wrote about what he was exposed to during his service in the South Pacific. World War II, it might be suggested, was the last war in which a popular sentiment supported extensive military involvement; Vietnam, certainly, ruined public support of war. Thus, because this poem comes from a collection written about a war that carried much public support, it is perhaps too easy to see it as a testament celebrating those common people who fought in the war. However, Shapiro chooses to show us the commonness of war and its common destruction. Where war is glorious, it is glorious primarily at its completion and in the aftermath, peace. Glory is not, as Shapiro deliberately illustrates, found in the jungle, in the foxhole, or among the carnage.
What seems important, thematically, is that Shapiro leads the way for the antiwar sensibilities that would proliferate across the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Granted, he does not condemn the war, but his objections to man’s inhumanity to man, for the sake of ideology, seem clear enough. “Elegy for a Dead Soldier,” like the other poems in V-Letter and Other Poems, is a song about common men who are misplaced in battle. For in the natural, peaceful world, one’s place is the preferred mundaneness of home or occupation.