The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 401

“Song of Napalm” is a free-verse poem of forty-five lines divided into five stanzas. The title is ironic: “Song” suggests something lovely and lyric, while napalm, on the other hand, is a deadly, incendiary jelly that the United States military dropped on villages during the Vietnam War. When dropped as a bomb, napalm ignites, and the burning jelly sticks to its victims and burns them to death. Because of the title, the reader knows that Bruce Weigl will once again be exploring the Vietnam War, a subject he treats frequently.

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The opening stanza presents an idyllic scene of a pasture after a storm told in the past tense. Because the poem is dedicated to the poet’s wife, it is easy to assume that the two people watching as horses “walk off lazily across the pasture’s hill” are the poet and his wife. However, the image, although pastoral, also contains the germ of foreboding: The narrator stares through a “black screen,” he describes the grass as “scarlet,” and he associates tree branches with barbed wire. The image of the barbed wire seems to propel the poet into the flux of past and present in the next stanza. The storm has passed, and he asserts that he has “turned [his] back on the old curses.” However, his belief is mistaken; in the first line of the third stanza, he shifts to the present tense although he describes a scene from the distant past. The thunder from the storm becomes a “pounding mortar” in his flashback, and, when he closes his eyes, he sees a “girl/ running from her village, napalm/ stuck to her dress like jelly.”

In the fourth stanza, the poet tries to imagine that the girl somehow escapes the burning napalm. He does this so that he “can keep on living.” Yet he acknowledges the lie and once again returns to the vision of the burning girl. She not only burns to death in the flashback but also is permanently “burned behind” the poet’s eyes. This vision from the past continues to haunt the poet. In the last lines of the poem, Weigl connects the pasture and Vietnam by describing the pasture as “jungle-green.” This connection between home and Vietnam acknowledges the burning girl’s presence in the present, an indication that the experience of the Vietnam War is not something that can remain hidden in the past.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 540

Weigl uses a variety of sensory images and metaphors to take the reader on a round trip from a rain-swept pasture to the horrors of the Vietnam War and back again. The poem opens with an image of a storm replete with pounding rain and thunder. Although the storm has passed, its aftereffects can still be seen in the pasture, in the color of the grass, and in the moisture that the retreating horses kick up with their hooves. Likewise, as the poem moves forward, readers realize that the “storm” of Weigl’s Vietnam War experience continues to make its effects felt in the present. Thus, the pounding rain and the thunder become the pounding of a mortar in an auditory image that links the pasture and the Vietnam War.

A second powerful metaphoric image occurs in lines 4 and 5: “We stared through the black screen/ our vision altered by the distance.” Literally, the black screen is no more than the screen door of the poet’s home. However, readers are reminded of what looking through a screen door is like: People ignore the mesh as they view a scene beyond, yet their vision is subtly shifted by the presence of the screen. Metaphorically, the screen serves two purposes: First, the “black screen” is the canvas on which Weigl’s memory plays out its visions of the Vietnam War; second, the black screen serves as a filter or a mesh that screens the memory of the burning girl in a...

(The entire section contains 3082 words.)

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Themes