When one thinks of the human condition

When one thinks of the human condition, things like birth and growth may first come to mind; war rarely does. Unfortunately, concepts like conflict and war have been present throughout centuries of human civilization and will most likely continue to be exploited. Still, it’s rather interesting to analyze different viewpoints and attitudes on the subject. The poems “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell and “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae exhibit similar themes of war, death, and tragedy, yet establish different tones through figurative language that reflect their respective authors’ outlooks on war.

Although “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” is only five lines long, Jarrell still manages to paint a vivid picture of the narrator’s demise through an extended metaphor. The “mother’s sleep” he falls from could be referring to his actual mother, but it is most likely talking about Mother Nature, Mother Earth, or some other general source of creation. When he “fell into the State”, he had his innocence snatched away and was thrown into battle. The “belly” he’s “hunched in” is the ball turret, which is a sphere located inside of a plane that gunners shoot from. It also symbolizes the womb, and is made clear with the phrase “wet fur” which is imagery for a newborn animal.

The next two lines function as a description of his final thoughts and mental state, and the imagery of the “black flak” allows one to truly picture the war-torn terrain he’s traveling above. The poem comes to a sudden and gruesome end, where the reader discovers that the gunner is dead and his remains are washed out with a hose. The poem creates a stark contrast between life and death through the first lines describing a new birth and the last one featuring an abrupt death. These components work to create a sorrowful and desolate tone.

While both of these poems talk about war and death, the tone of “In Flanders Fields” is completely different. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” left the reader feeling empty and dejected, while “In Flanders Fields” consists of a more nostalgic and bittersweet type of sadness. Jarrell uses metaphors to convey the tone of his story, but McCrae uses alliteration and imagery. “Row on row”, “Loved and were loved, and now we lie”, and “Hold it high” are all examples of alliteration used to emphasize the importance of the deads’ legacies and how crucial it is to remember their service.

The “larks still bravely singing” make the reader think of the bravery and courage that the soldiers took with them to their graves. The poppies blowing in the wind are flowers left out by loved ones, showing remembrance and the importance of honoring the lost lives. The torch referred to in the third stanza symbolizes patriotism and is another reminder of honoring the dead and carrying their legacies. The tone of this poem is still sad, but by showing sympathy for the dead it is more peaceful and compassionate.

Jarrell and McCrae both wrote poems on war, but it is evident through their writing that they had different viewpoints. “In Flanders Fields” acts as a symbol for remembrance, and tells the reader not to dwell on the past and instead look to the future and carry on the legacies of the dead. On the other hand, “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” focuses on the more gruesome side of battle--the inevitability of death and the horrors of war. The authors worked to communicate these themes and tones, and succeeded in describing vastly different viewpoints through the use of figurative language.

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