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Kilroy Themes

(Poetry for Students)

Spirit of Adventure
The most prevalent theme in Viereck’s “Kilroy” is praise for the spirit of adventure, particularly that of soldiers trekking through foreign lands with eagerness and bravado. The phrase “Kilroy was here” symbolizes the American GI’s vitality during World War II and his widespread presence in cities and jungles, deserts and islands. The poem celebrates—ironically perhaps—a soldier’s sense of liberation and desire to follow gut instinct. It turns the common soldier into an epic hero, comparing him to such historical adventurers as Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo and the mythological figures Ulysses, Orestes, and Icarus. Each of these characters brings an essential ingredient to the whole idea of spirit. Columbus and Polo bring the desire for discovery and the willingness to travel great lengths to find new places, new people, and new things. Ulysses has no choice in his ten-year voyage since he was sentenced to it by Poseidon as punishment for his part in the Trojan War; however, he makes the best of it by surviving devious tricks, alluring monsters, and dangerous waters. Therefore, Ulysses represents sheer willpower in the spirit of adventure. Orestes brings a sense of self-justification and belief in his own actions, even when it means avenging his father’s death by killing his adulterous mother. The narrator asks “guilty of what crime?” implying there really is no crime because Orestes is justified in his revenge. Finally, Icarus brings youthful foolhardiness to the spirit. He dares to zoom toward the sun on wings held together by wax and pays dearly for the thrill, but his attempt is passionate and wild, as well as regrettable.

All these attributes—travel and discovery, willpower, self-justification, and foolish, youthful passion—make up the mindset of the legendary Kilroy during the Second World War. The lines from the poem that best sum up this spirit are the repetitive cries “‘I was there! I was there! I was there!’” and “He was there, he was there, he was there!” If the point has not been clear enough, the poet throws in an allegory at the end to show how weak and mundane the anti-Kilroy citizen of the suburbs is— “Can’t sat down and cried” because he either has no sense of adventure or lacks the guts to act.

The Anonymous Soldier
Obviously, not all is upbeat and exhilarating for soldiers gone to war, and some would understandably say there are no positive feelings associated with battle at all. Viereck’s poem avoids the horrible realities of bloodshed and death...

(The entire section is 659 words.)