Thursday, August 21, 2014

EXAMPLE BLOG POST: That last line...

The last line of Randall Jarrell’s brief poem “The Death of a Ball Turret Gunner” took an incredibly striking and powerful turn from the tone and imagery earlier in the poem. I found the first few lines a little confusing, so I am going to leave those for my next post.  (If you have any ideas about what’s going on there, a comment would be much appreciated.) I didn’t realize the speaker was dead until the last line “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose,” which made the poem a lot more haunting (a dead soldier talking!).  We don’t see actually see him die; instead, we first wake up from an image of comfort: “From my mother’s sleep,” sleeping with his mother, into this horrible world in the belly of an airplane (the note really helped me figure out what was going on).  Jarrell writes, “I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.”  The rhyme, “black flak” sounds hard, almost like shots fired from a gun, and the image created is truly one of a nightmare, a sky turned black with anti-aircraft bombs (flak) exploding all around, while this soldier huddles in this bubble underneath the airplane getting shot at.  The reader doesn’t actually see him die; there’s no heroic battle or a picture of him going nobly to his death.  We only get to see the aftermath, and Jarrell states this line so matter-of-factly: “When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose,” no embellishment at all.  The language is as practical and efficient as the action of the unnamed “they” (a stand-in for the State?  The people in charge in the government sending these young men to war?) callously hosing the speaker’s blood from the bomber, presumably to be replaced by yet another speaker, another boy sent off to die in the war.  The poem is sort of dreamy at the beginning, but then this last line is so direct, plain even, it is shocking to read, which, I imagine, was what Jarrell wanted, to show how graphic and shocking war is!  Did you have the same reaction to the last line?  Did it sound different from the rest of the poem to you?  

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