Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Throughout the body of Weigl’s work, and most particularly in the poems found in the volume Song of Napalm (1988), the poet’s experiences in the Vietnam War erupt into the heart of his poetry. Regardless of the intensity of his subject matter, however, Weigl never tries to substitute content for craft. His poetry is lean, spare, and carefully crafted, and he displays an acute awareness of the role art plays in the production of truth. “Song of Napalm,” widely anthologized and considered by many critics to be one of the best poems to come out of the Vietnam War experience, is just such a poem, careful in its craft and brutal in its message. Like Yusef Komunyakaa in “You and I Are Disappearing” from the poetry collection Dien Cai Dao (1988), Weigl conjures the image of a burning girl to remind readers of the terrible cost of the Vietnam War. At the same time, Weigl questions the possibility of life after the war: How does someone continue to live with the image of a burning girl permanently etched behind the eyes? In “Song of Napalm,” as in many of Weigl’s Vietnam War poems, home and Vietnam do not exist as separate entities but rather coexist as contiguous realities; that is, even when he is contemplating an American scene, images of Vietnam intrude, changing the scene before him. The two locations, war and home, fuse and become the unit of Weigl’s life. Just as in John Balaban’s poem “After Our War,” collected in Blue...

(The entire section is 557 words.)