The Fury of Aerial Bombardment

by Richard Eberhart

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The Poem

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“The Fury of Aerial Bombardment” is a short poem of four stanzas. Stanza 1 rhymes abba; stanza 2 rhymes bccb, although “centuries” rhymes weakly with furies. Lines 1 and 4 rhyme in stanza 3, and in the final stanza, lines 2 and 4 rhyme. The title of the poem defines its subject—aerial bombardment. It also suggests the author’s attitude toward his topic: moral indignation toward humankind and God.

The first three stanzas employ a persona who refers to himself as “I” in stanza 4. The poem traces Richard Eberhart’s experience as a theoretical gunnery instructor for the United States Navy in 1942. The speaker ventures what “you” or every person who has confronted war thinks and feels about the fury of aerial bombardment.

Stanza 1 uses the subjunctive to point out a discrepancy between what the situation actually is in relation to war and what one would presumably think—that the fury of aerial bombardment “would rouse God to relent.” Eberhart states that “the infinite spaces/ are still silent.” God’s inaction seems incomprehensible. He looks on “shock-pried” faces and does not relent; “History, even, does not know what is meant.” Stanza 2 again uses the subjunctive to point out a condition contrary to fact: “You would feel that after so many centuries/ God would give man to repent.” “Give” here means “cause,” but God has not “caused” humanity’s repentance. Cain was allowed to exercise free will. He killed his brother, and humankind is still possessed of ancient furies.

Stanza 3 questions humanity’s sensibility. Was humanity “made stupid to see his own stupidity?” Perhaps God permits war. The poet inquires, “Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?” No answer is given, and the poet conjectures about eternal truth. Is there a beast in “man’s fighting soul” that feeds upon its own desire for profit or gain?

No answer is provided. In the final stanza, the poet turns inward and focuses upon his own human experience. He recalls two names on a list, Van Wettering and Averill, who were recently or “late” in school. Both men had been trained as gunners and had learned to handle weapons of war. They could release the bullet from the “belt feed lever” into the pawl, and that is their only distinction—an ironic one, since the speaker of the poem has no recollection of either man’s face. The fury of aerial bombardment is clear; these young men did not live to distinguish themselves. The fury of aerial bombardment has sent them to an “early death.”

Forms and Devices

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In Of Poetry and Poets (1979), a book of lectures, essays, and interviews, Eberhart defines poetry as “a confrontation of the whole being with reality.” The soul, the mind, and the body struggle to comprehend life. Aerial bombardment brings untimely and terrible death. The poem is philosophical in its questioning, and the terrible meaning of humanity’s failure to live in harmony and peace is revealed through intricate manipulations of meter and rhyme.

Stanza 1 begins with a subjunctive enjambed line that carries through to a caesura after the third foot of the second line. The pause is preceded by the internal rhyming of “relent” in line 2 with “bombardment” in line 1. This pattern is repeated in line 3, where “silent” rhymes with “is meant” at the end of line 4.

Stanza 2 mirrors the pattern of stanza 1. It employs the subjunctive “would feel” in line 1, which matches the “would give” conditional in line 2. Again, a pause comes after “repent” in the middle of the second line. The verb “to repent” stresses humanity’s evil in causing mass destruction. The grammatical...

(This entire section contains 405 words.)

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construction of the poetic lines emphasizes this and causes a further contemplation of humanity’s will to kill. Yet war fails to move God so that He “would give man to repent.” The first two stanzas establish the problem, “aerial bombardment,” and examine its cause. They balance each other in masculine and feminine rhymes, with stanza 2 reversing the pattern of stanza 1.

Philosophical inquiry is typical of much of Eberhart’s work. The first two stanzas of “The Fury of Aerial Bombardment” address humanity’s fate in relation to God’s plan. The probe is rhetorical in nature, and the tone exhibits indignation toward God, who could stop humanity’s senseless folly. Stanza 2 shifts from rhetorical statements to a series of questions.

The significant change in the poem comes after stanza 3. The speaker no longer questions God’s lack of intervention in tolerating humanity’s tendency toward destruction. Stanza 4 is elegiac, a lament over the lost lives of two youths. A conversational tone is used. The speaker switches to the first person and comments that he does not remember the two young faces. The men are mere names on a list. The previous tone of moral indignation changes to an attitude that encompasses sorrow and waste. The poem ends with quiet irony. The men’s lives have amounted to the fact that they learned to distinguish the parts of a gun.