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Background of the Poet
- Alun Lewis was a Welsh poet.
- He is one of the best-known English-language poets of the Second World War
Structure and Rhyme Scheme
- 7 stanzas, each of 5 lines. Regular structure and orderly. Gaining ease by writing the poem and the consistency denotes that he is at ease with the status quo now. We see him talking in the past tense throughout the beginning of the poem, meaning he has now come to terms with the result.
- There is a rhyme scheme where the 1st and 3rd lines are irregular, and the 2nd, 4th and 5th lines all rhyme. The randomness of the 1st and 3rd lines could denote the randomness of life, and how although randomness may breach a person’s life (in this case where the poet was diverted to attend the aftermath of a submarine attack on another ship), however ultimately regaining uniformity and consistency with the past rhymes.
- Very simple title. To denote the simple nature of death, I suppose. A very mellow title as well, could denote the simplicity of life alike.
- The alternative title is ‘On seeing dead bodies floating off the Cape’, could talk about the word ‘floating’ as it they transformed from their tangible bodies into their abstract souls and Lewis perhaps acknowledged this phenomena which reemphasises his spiritual beliefs.
- Death. We deduce this from the alternative title ‘On seeing dead bodies…’
- Love. He has written a poem for his fellow comrades and denotes the brotherly bondage he shared between himself and the others. The first stanza accurately supports this claim where he was ‘numb and sick’.
So, alternatively, you may interpret this poem as being delivered by a female persona from around mid-way to the near end, where at the end the poet reasserts his own persona. You could relate this to how men go to war, however war leads to death and therefore many wives must live the remainder of their lives as widows. Where the poet talks about the ‘seed of love’ (talk about repetition), he could be referring to the moment of conception and the growing fetus that could be inside the female at this point. The fetus, additionally, could be a symbol for their love, and with the death of her husband, the ‘seed’ is sick, i.e. their love is sick and ultimately dies.
Language Analysis and Critical Appreciation
- Okay so! This is a really nice brotherly love poem Lewis has written for his fellow comrades. Hopefully you guys will enjoy studying it. I may say ‘brother’ here and there, but that is strictly figurative. He is talking about his war comrades — not his actual brother(s) (if he had any?)!
- ‘…first month’: He’s talking about his comrades who had to leave him and deals with war, love and death all in one. It also tells us how long they have been gone for and his mental state during that time. He uses enjambment ‘…his absence / I was numb…’. Why? He’s doing this to emphasis the longing in him regarding how much he misses his figurative brothers that his sentence or what he’s trying to say spills into the next line. This emphasises the longing he embodies.
- ‘The seed, the seed’: There is repetition here. Lewis does this because firstly he identifies the symbol which embodies the abstractness of love, and then he qualifies it to feel another emotion. So he’s basically saying an emotion (love) is experiencing a physical phenomena (sick)? Yes! This can be the figurative ‘sick’ as in being sad, or you could attribute it to being actually physically sick in the idea of his brothers being gone and the longing that is investing itself inside of Lewis.
- He identifies the second month in the same fashion as the preceding stanza: ‘The second month’: Again, to identify the exact month he was experiencing said emotions.
- ‘…darkness of despair’: So he’s doing multiple things here. Alliteration to emphasis the darkness which is enveloped in ‘despair’. In addition, he is characterising a certain shade of light to a certain emotion/feeling/characteristic. This is important because we see the level his sadness is extending to.
- There’s a lot of additional information being included here: For the next consecutive 3 lines he begins with ‘And…’, therefore this repetition tells us that there is always something additional he is feelings, i.e. characterising the endlessness of his emotions and how he will always be feeling something more for his comrades that he lost.
- ‘…my bed was like a grave’: Simile here! So instead of sleeping, it’s as if each time he retrieves to his ‘bed’, it feels like a ‘grave’. Multiple interpretations. Either he’s trying to say that due to his longing to see and be around his comrades he wanted to die and therefore characterised his bed to feeling like a grave because he wanted to die such that he could be around his comrades again. Another interpretation could be that his life at that point featured death to a high degree, therefore whenever he would retrieve to his bed he would feel like he’s actually retrieving to a grave.
- ‘…his ghost was lying there’: Another quote for support of the points I have made above.
- ‘…my heart was sick with care’: The extent of his love for his brothers and longing for them resulted in a physical (or figurative) disease. Again, emphasising the extent of his love for them.
- 3rd stanza. ‘..third month’: Again, like the preceding 2 stanzas, he identifies each month at the beginning of this stanza in the same fashion. ‘…thirty-second day’: He’s giving us a specific detail here.
- Uses enjambment through the use of a dash (‘—‘), and says ‘…the tempest blew his words away’: Lewis does this to emphasis how he was just cut off and therefore did not get a complete whole answer and this resulted in the longing for his brothers.
- Okay listen up! This is a very important point. You will notice that in the first 3 stanzas Lewis identifies the month he is progressing through via referring to them ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’, etc month that has passed, and he did this in the same fashion through the first 3 stanzas. However, now in the fourth stanza you will notice that he does NOT do this in the same fashion. Instead, he identifies the ‘fourth month’ in the 3rd line of the 4th stanza, unlike the preceding 3 stanzas. And you will notice in the next 3 stanzas (the 5th, 6th, and 7th stanza respectively) that he does not identify the month of his progression at all. Why? He wants to show at the beginning that he counted the progression of each day and each month, and we all know that this is linked to the level of grief someone is in, however we slowly see him recovering and instead of identifying each month he moves to not identifying the progression of each month and time-specific emotions he had been feeling—instead, this blends in with time and recovery and his resulting emotions. I hope this makes sense.
- ‘…voyage’: So he refers to his comrade to be on a voyage. So this is either refers them to be on a journey or that he is dead. So a voyage refers to a long journey. You can comment further on this word.
- ‘Beloved,’: Caesura used here to hold singular importance for his ‘beloved’.
- From what I have gathered (correct me if I am wrong), kingfishers are a type of bird that dive for fish in the sea which is attributed to their long beaks to allow them to do so. ‘…flying fish like kingfishers’: Simile to attribute the birds he is trying to talk about to a specific species to allow the reader to understand him better. In addition, alliteration used in ‘flying fish’ to add to acoustic impact of the stanza.
- ‘…seagulls have no nests / Where my lover sways and rests.’: Basically he’s talking about an open sea where birds cannot have any nests, and his lover rests — he is dead in the ocean essentially. He mentions this to further explore the area of his beloved — because that’s the extent of his love where it matters to him where his beloved actually rests — the environment around his beloved.
- ‘And I’ll not stir, so he sleeps well’: Asyndeton. He does this to aptly tell us why he shall no longer cause a ruckus because of his longing emotions. This also gives us a sort of resolution to the rest of the poem: and how he wants his brother to rest in peace. In a way, he is trying to do whatever it takes (even if it means to not mourn him indefinitely) to ensure that he ‘sleeps’ in peace. Also he uses euphemism here such that he doesn’t have to explicitly say that he is -dead-. He does this because he wants to slowly ease himself into the idea or fact that his brother is now deceased, and therefore we sympathise with Lewis.
- ‘…cell by cell’: Repetition here in order to inform the readers of every single compartment in which grieves his deceased brother. We try to empathise with Lewis. The extent to which he misses his brother is so vast such that he sees the entire ‘coral reef’ mourning his brother and thus building an ‘eternity of grief’: whereby the entire sea continues to mourn his brother as that is where he now rests (in the ocean).
- ‘But oh!’: Caesura used to denote a sort of epiphany or remembrance Lewis undergoes.
- ‘..drag and dullness’: Alliteration to emphasise the mundane reality of his own ‘Self’, where he capitalises the latter word, therefore respecting his own self.
- ‘All this slowness, all this hardness’: Asyndeton, caesura, and alliteration to denote the reality that he is in, how there is always something more to his condition of mourning and to further characterise the longing that he is in—additionally, to emphasise his mundane reality without his beloved.
- ‘…nearness’: Could comment on this word. He is using his bed as a metaphor for a grave, and therefore he is trying to say that his death is almost near as well at this point, and his bed is nearing this ‘slowness’ which life gradually encapsulates.
- Self-effacement, from what I have gathered, basically means humility or not drawing unnecessary attention to one’s own self. This basically means that the dead will ultimately be in a position where they are unremembered as they are no longer living, and characterises the ‘nearing’ which is waiting in his bed for him to die. Although his brother is dead, he remembers him, however understands that he cannot go on indefinitely mourning his brother and comes to a conclusion that eventually the dead will be forgotten—yet that too, rightly so.