Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The “forced march” of the title can be interpreted in two ways. The first is the forced march that the prisoner is a part of as he presses on, despite his physical pain, toward a destination not named in the poem. In the second sense, the poet forces himself onward, as “he simply dare not stay” in the ditch in which he has collapsed.

In fact, the compulsory nature of the march may be caused more by the poet’s own drive. Though he “is insane” and “a fool” for hoping that his home and wife still exist, he creates a pastoral scene. “Tell me it’s still there,” he commands himself; his insistent tones can be heard in lines such as “Oh, if I could believe/ that there is, to return, a home.” In contrast to the way he compels himself onward are the “sleepy gardens,” his waiting wife, and “morning slowly tracing its shadowed reticence.” The languorous nature of his mental destination serves as a fitting goal to the pure relentlessness of his journey. The final lines, as he calls to a comrade to rouse him back to action, end this reverie and return him to the reality of the forced march.

The poet’s imagined home life also operates in the context of a biblical allusion. He imagines his wife waiting in a garden in the morning where “among bow and foliage fruits were swaying naked.” In its innocence, the scene suggests Eden before the Fall of Man. By contrast, he is in darkness (despite a full moon) and believes that the plum tree (like the Tree of Knowledge of Good...

(The entire section is 626 words.)