The first stanza opens with the speaker beseeching a maiden not to weep, “for war is kind.” This opening sentence sets the bitter, ironic tone of the poem as the reader already knows that the brutality of war is the very antithesis of kindness. The speaker says that though the maiden’s lover was knocked down while his frightened horse ran on alone, she should not weep. The dramatic and chaotic image of a young man throwing “wild hands toward the sky” as he is killed sharply contrasts with the speaker’s dispassionate final line: “War is kind.”
In contrast with the intimate setting of the first stanza, the second stanza describes a battlefield setting as if from afar. One can hear the booming sound of the regiment’s drums. The speaker describes the young soldiers as “little souls” who are “born to drill and die.” This line portrays the soldiers not as powerful men in control of their own destinies but as pitiful figures who are powerless to change their fate. An “unexplained glory” flies high above the soldiers. This glory could refer to the flag or simply the abstract notions of valor and bravery that are associated with war. Either way, the fact that the glory is “unexplained” illustrates the futility of what the men on the battlefield are doing; there is no true purpose or real justification behind their battle. It should also be noted that the glory—whether it is a flag or simply the concept of glory—is not down on the battlefield with the men. It flies high above them, demonstrating how far removed the lofty ideals of war are from the physical horrors of battle. The stanza ends with an allusion to a great battle god who looks out over his kingdom, which we would reasonably expect to be full of warriors. Instead, his kingdom merely consists of the dead: “a field where a thousand corpses lie.”
The third stanza reverts to the same type of intimate setting as the first stanza. In it,...
(The entire section is 804 words.)