Death. There is no other topic in all of literature that can draw out such meaningful and complicated emotions from different people all over the world. Death to some people can be a time of spiritual revival, a time of gathering and even, in some cases, a time for celebration. But for others, death can lead to a time of deep mourning and sadness and a time to reflect on oneself and how you view the word death. So its no coincidence then, that poets such as Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Frank O’Connor, and Thomas Hardy, have tried to describe and analyze death through the use of poetry. Poetry is one unique way for ordinary people to think about, get a better grasp on and respond to death in their everyday lives. “War Is Kind,” “The Man He Killed,” “Because I Could Not stop For Death,” and “Guests of the Nation” through the use of irony, diction, and personification show how each individual author not only self- interpreted the deeper meaning, but also their own personal definition behind the word death, and what it means to them. In “War Is Kind” there are two speakers, one of which is using irony to describe the cruelty of war, and one who seems to be a higher-ranking officer urging his men to fight in the “glory” of battle. You can easily tell that the two speakers throughout the poem view the soldiers’ deaths differently then one another because of the change in the diction between the two of them. For example the narrator of the first stanza says, “Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky/ and the affrighted steed ran on alone,/ do not weep/ war is kind” (Crane 511). This point of view on death presents it ironically as a kind thing, although the author was just describing the soldier being killed and his horse running off without him. In the next stanza, the speaker says in a very harsh and pompous manner, Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die.
The unexplained glory flies above them,
Great is the battle god, great, and his kingdom
A field where a thousand corpses lie. (511)
This quote exemplifies how the commanding officer does not care at all about the soldiers and that sending them off to die is nothing but a little more then a game. Also the way the commanding officer refers to it as a “kingdom” and talks about battle gods just adds to the fact that the officer has no idea what it is like risking his life out in the heat of a battle ground, and killing another human being just for his “side” when he’s standing safely on the outskirts of the skirmishes. This quote uses this specific diction in order to make the reader picture death as a glorious and triumphant face, but again, the poem is using irony to describe a brutal battlefield as a great or even holy thing. In “Because I could not stop for Death” Emily Dickinson, portrays death as being a Gentleman, “Because I could not stop for Death- He kindly stopped for me,” (Dickinson 541) And also, “I had put away my labor and my leisure too, for His civility.” (541) Throughout the poem the author uses Personification to get across the gentlemanly “face” of death to the reader by visually describing how death was acting, as if it were a person. In the text she even capitalizes the word “He”, when referring to Death. Also throughout the text Dickinson describes how at the end of her life, she feels at peace with the world, and how she is happily becoming one with Death, “Since then- ‘tis centuries- and yet/Feels shorter than the Day/I first surmised the horses’ Heads/Were toward Eternity” (541). In Thomas Hardy’s “The Man He Killed” a soldier shares his opinion on war with someone because he’s confused as to why he killed a man he didn’t even know and why he’s involved in a war he doesn’t want any part in. Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown. (Hardy 545)
By the end of this poem, through the Author’s great use of diction, the reader starts to understand what the soldier is upset and confused about. He is frustrated with the fact that he doesn’t know why he fought and killed this guy he didn’t even know. For all he knows, in a different time and place he could have bumped into this guy at a bar and had a drink or two with him, but just because their two countries were at war, he had to shoot this man just because he was wearing the other country’s uniform. In “Guests of a Nation” by Frank O’Connor, death is shown to be something that is extremely dark, affecting and that ends up changing a man’s life forever. By the end of this story the reader will have felt that through the presentation of the Author’s diction and the overall tone of the work, that death’s face would be considered to be depressing. A great quote from the work that expresses these depressing emotions is, Noble, just as if he couldn't bear any more of it, raised his fist at Donovan, and in a flash Donovan raised his gun and fired. The big man went over like a sack of meal, and this time there was no need of a second shot. I don't remember much about the burying, but that it was worse than all the rest because we had to carry them to the grave. (O’Connor 155), The way the author describes the action that is occurring in the text in such vivid detail and the diction he uses really adds to the way the reader perceives the face of death in this literary work. This is really on display in this passage of the text, I alone of the crowd saw Donovan raise his Webley to the back of Hawkins's neck, and as he did so I shut my eyes and tried to pray. Hawkins had begun to say something else when Donovan fired, and as I opened my eyes at the bang, I saw Hawkins stagger at the knees and lie out flat at Noble's feet, slowly and as quiet as a kid falling asleep, with the lantern-light on his lean legs and bright farmer's boots. We all stood very still, watching him settle out in the last agony. (170), This scene really adds a great deal to the story. The author’s use of diction and tone throughout the passage really makes you feel as if you were in the Narrator’s place and makes you feel how the narrator would have felt in a situation like that. In conclusion, throughout these works as a whole, the more efficiently the author uses the manners of presentation of tone, form, diction, irony and personification, the more it will add to the effectiveness of the reader understanding and seeing how the author viewed and then portrayed death in his or her literary work and the more effective his or her works will be overall. So the next time you read a literary work that involves death, be sure to look past the literal aspects of it and look for the deeper meaning and interpretation that the author thought to describe the word Death for them. Bibliography Crane, Stephen. “War is Kind” Diyanni. 511
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop for Death” Diyanni. 541 Hardy, Thomas. “The man he killed” Diyanni. 545
O’Connor, Frank. “Guests of the Nation” Diyanni. 51