Flashcards in Vergissmeinnicht Deck (11)
Written from the perspective of a soldier in the second world war. Published posthumously and not given recognition until much later on.
6 stanzas of 4 lines. Lots of half rhyme, assonance, full rhyme, enjambment and caesura which leads us into thinking there is a structure but then changes course. Reflects the uncertainty of war and the ambivalence of feeling from the narrator.
"Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground"
Abrupt opening with a brutal story. Repetition of "gone" for emphasis. Not just time and soldiers that have "gone" but also humanity and kindness. "Nightmare ground" is hypallage (an adjective is put with a noun other than the one to which it refers). Not the ground having nightmares but the soldiers who have experienced the fighting.
"we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun"
Repetition of "found" creates a rhythm that gives momentum. Sibilance in last line is unpleasant and emphatic. Ensures soldier becomes poems central subject. Internal rhyme of "ground" and "found" makes the reader notice the soldier.
"The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon."
Hypallage. Guns can't frown but the people operating them can. Sentence ends with "overshadowing". Guns overshadow the ground and minds of the men. "We came on that day" extends the present. Strength of the memories in their minds. The simile suggests a determined perhaps even crazed soldier.
"Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl"
"Look" can be a soldier speaking to another and the poet speaking to the reader. Language is now personal rather distant perspective drawing the reader to the story of the German soldier. "Gunpit spoil" shows speaker and company were scavenging. Gunpit well manned which was forbidden suggesting emotional coldness. "Dishonoured picture" shows soldiers hardened by fighting. Soldiers who sort through the possessions of the fallen who "dishonour" something that was precious to the dead man.
"who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copybook gothic script."
"Steffi" is dead soldiers girlfriend or wife. Shortened version of name used implying affection. "Vergissmeinnicht" is German for forget me not. He kept the picture meaning soldier loved her.
"We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that's hard and good when he's decayed"
Attention moves back to English soldiers. Show no pity for dead soldiers. Look at him despairingly and see his humiliating death as acceptable. Adverb "content" is ironic. Implications of peace and satisfaction. Soldiers have become battle hardened and inhumane. Something phallic about shape of gun which mocks him. Fully functioning gun contrasts with "decayed" former lover who will never see his Steffi again. Ironic as soldiers sexuality destroyed and living identity emasculated.
"But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave."
Dehumanising view transformed to humane perspective. English soldiers empathise with girl "who would weep". Second line forms monosyllabic string. Harsh and difficult to speak aloud. Grotesque imagery of decomposed body. "Burst" is plosive which slows pace drawing out the horror.
"For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart."
Universalised terms representing both "lover" and "killer". Rhyme of "mingled" and "singled" adds impact to blended identities and the definite but random act of fate. Definitive article "the" makes it seem like he represents all lovers and killers. Two roles of lover and killer can't coexist under the watch of death.