Friday, May 28, 2004

Insight into Political Poetry

When I think of the term "political poetry" I generally think of poetry that protests some event, leader, government, etc. I think one of the most interesting things I have learned from this project is that poetry does not have to be in protest of something to be political. Any art that makes a point about the society in which it is created, or any societal situation, it is political. If you can study poetry, music, art, etc. and learn something about the culture, events, etc. of the time it was created in, then it is political. Political does not equal protest.

And that point aside, there is always more than one side to any issue. Even if political did equal protest, a protest implies that there are at least two sides to the issue. Therefore, what I see as pro-issue poetry, someone for the issue might see as protesting the opposite view. It is all relative.

Conlcusion: The term "political poetry" includes a much wider range of art other than protest poetry.

World War II Music and "Hitler has only got one ball"

A great amount of music was produced in America during the second world war (Syracuse). Big bands and swing music both became popular during this time. Much of the popular music reflected the wartime society. There were patriotic songs, narrative songs telling stories of soldiers and of lovers, reunion songs, songs about mothers, and songs that reflected societal changes, such as women in the workforce.

There were also songs that soldiers sang, for a variety of different reasons, such as to express their feelings and longings for home, to keep their spirits up, or to rally each other into fighting mode.

"Hitler has only got one ball" is a song that denounces the manhood of key political figures in the war, and thus rallies the soldiers into a fighting spirit.

This song is indeed political in that it demonstrates one of the ways in which political leaders were evaluated (by that I mean the figurative qualities they had; obviously neither the song nor I am saying that Hitler actually had one ball, but rather that he was unmanly). What is interesting to me is the way the song reflects the fact that society valued manliness, as a function of sexuality, as a key quality in being a good leader during the World War II era.

Link to Source
Syracuse University Library

Randall Jarrell and "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner"

(links to Jarrell's poems can be found further down in this site)

Randall Jarrell wrote a good amount of what is termed "war poetry," but he began writing poetry before WWII. He was born in 1914 in Nashville, Tennessee(Pritchard). He did his undergraduate work at Vanderbilt UKniversity and his graduate work at Kenyon College. He began publishing his poetry while he was still an undergraduate. He was part of a very literary crowd and knew people like John Crowe Randsom and Robert Lowell. In the 1940's he not only published his first book of poetry but also became a critic of poetry.

In 1942 he joined the Air Force. He attempted to become a pilot but did not succeed. Instead, he ended up teaching pilot training courses. The war and its effect on the young boys and men he was training had an impact on him and consequently his poetry.

After the war, he continued to pursue his career as both a poet and a critic. Near the end of his life he attempted to commit suicide and failed. Shortly thereafter, he died in 1965 when he was struck by a car.

Many critics have commented on what makes Jarrell's war poetry so effective. Robert Lowell says, "He was writing beyond the war, and turning the full visionary powers of his mind on the war to probe into and expose the horror, pathos, and charm he found in life. Always behind the sharpened edge of his lines, there is the merciful vision, his vision, partial like all others, but an illumination of life, too sad and radiant for us to stay with long--or forget." I think this is an excellent description of Jarrell's work. As I have been thinking about his poetry, I have been trying to decide what he is saying about the war. Was he for the war, against it, indifferent? The first time I read "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" I was sure that this poem was in protest of the war. But the more I read, the less sure I am of this conclusion.

Then I began to read some criticism. Many people have analyzed what Jarrell is saying withing the poem. They tend to agree that Jarrell is bring key paradoxes to light in a paradoxical way. Leven M. Dawson points to the "moral paradox" of war when "acts repugnant to human nature become appropriate." He goes on to describe the "unnatural" conditions that exist in the poem: the "wet fur" of the gunner, the fact that he is "six miles from earth." The fur is a paradoxical counterpart to the fur that covers a fetus in the womb, and the six miles is the counterpart to the six feet under the earth that a person is once he or she is buried. The poem seems to pull between birth and death.

Other people have discussed how the death of the gunner is like an abortion. Patrick J. Horner says, "The gunner, like an aborted foetus, was never allowed to achieve independent human life." The poem seems to be a sort of analysis of what the significance of both life and death are in the context of modern war.

But after all that, I am still not convinced that Jarrell was protesting the war. I think, instead, that he really accepted war as a part of life and was contemplating what that means to humanity. It seems to me that Jarrell wasn't opposed to the war itself, but just to the general effect of tragedy that was an inevitable result of the war.

To me, the beauty of this poem lies in the strenght of merely five lines. In these five lines, Jarrell manages to make us feel not only the loss of the gunner, but humanity's loss of value for life in modern warfare. This poem does not have to be either for or against the war to be political. It is political because it exposes the tragedy of war and its costs to humanity, which is indeed a political statement.

Links to Sources
William Pritchard
Robert Lowell
Leven M. Dawson and Patrick J. Horner

WWII Poets

These sites give information on how the war influenced the poets.

The style of WWII Poets vs. WWI Poets

Poets of WWII analyzed by Chales Bernstein

Thursday, May 27, 2004

WWII Information

World War II

This will take you to a page containing links to various WWII information. This information will give you a better idea of what these poets were living through when they felt it neccessary to speak out against the war.

The page includes:
A brief history of the war
WWII Photos
Information and Photos from the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Links to poets that were influenced by WWII


Here are a few examples of political poetry that were written in response to the occurances of World War II.

Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor

Eighth Air Force by Randall Jarrell

Chindit by KN Batley

Conscript by FA Horn


"Of course, its done him worlds of good", they said,
"He's twice the man he was - a puny chap
he used to be, if you remember - always at books and that,
but since he joined
he's broadened out. They've made a man of him;
You wouldn't know now".

Deep-sunk in rain-soaked ditch, with weeds and filth
stopping his mouth, the soldir lies;
swollen and black, his face turns to the skies
in blank, unquestioning stare, his body, tight
and big as flood-drowned pig, lurches and sways,
to wind and water. Yes, he's broadened out -
he's twice the man he was; a pity, though,
his life should run, like bright oil down a gutter,
to implement some politician's brag.

His world went out
though that neat hole in temple, quickly and easily
as words from windy mouths. And loves unknown,
and skies unseen, and books unread,
forever lost, he's dead.

You wouldn't know him know.

FA Horn 1940

Beach Burial

Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wander in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.

Between the sob and clubbing of gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon the nakedness;

And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin -

"Unknown seaman" - the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men's lips,

Dead seaman, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.

Kenneth Slessor

Eighth Air Force

If, in an odd angle of the hutment,
A puppy laps the water from a can
Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving
Whistles O Paradiso!-shall I say that man
Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?

The other murderers troop in yawning;
Three of them play Pitch, on sleeps, and one
Lies counting missions, lies there sweating
Till even his heart beats: One; One; One.
O murderers!...Still, this is how it's done:

This is a war...But since these play, before they die,
Like puppies with their puppy; since, a man,
I did as these have done, but did not die-
I will content the people as I can
And give up these to them: Behold the man!

I have suffered, in a dream, because of him,
Many things; for this last saviour, man,
I have lied as I lie now. But what is lying?
Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can:
I find no fault in this just man.

Randall Jarrell


Have you ever seen a column march away,
And left you lying, too damned sick to care?
Have you ever watched the night crawl into day
With red-rimmed eyes that are too tired to stare?
Have you ever bled beside a jungle trace
In thick brown mud like coagulating stew?
Have you ever counted leeches loping back
Along the trail of sweat that lead to you?
Have you ever heard your pals shout "cheerio",
Knowing that this is no "Auf wiedershen"?
Have you ever prayed, alone, for help although
The stench of mules has vanished in the rain?
Have you ever thought, "what a bloody way to die!",
Left in the tree-roots, rotting, there to stay?
God, I remember last poignant "Goodbye";
I was one of the ment that marched away.

KN Batley

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

from "World War II" By Edward Field

It was midwinter and the waves were mountains
and the water ice water.
You could live in it twenty-five minutes
the Ditching Survival Manual said.
Since most of the crew were squeezed on my raft
I had to stay in the water hanging on.
My raft? It was their raft, they got there first so they would live.
Twenty-five minutes I had.
Live, live, I said to myself.
You've got to live.
There looked like plenty of room on the raft
from where I was and I said so
but they said no.
When I figured the twenty-five minutes were about up
and I was getting numb,
I said I couldn't hold on anymore,
and a little rat-faced boy from Alabama, one of the gunners,
got into the icy water in my place,
and I got on the raft in his.
He insisted on taking off his flying clothes
which was probably his downfall because even wet clothes are protection,
and then worked hard, kicking with his legs, and we all paddled,
to get to the other raft
and tie them together.
The gunner got in the raft with the pilot
and lay in the wet.
Shortly after, the pilot started gurgling green foam from his mouth—
maybe he was injured in the crash against the instruments—
and by the time we were rescued,
he and the little gunner were both dead.
That boy who took my place in the water
who died instead of me
I don't remember his name even.
It was like those who survived the death camps
by letting others go into the ovens in their place.
It was him or me, and I made up my mind to live.
I'm a good swimmer,
but I didn't swim off in that scary sea
looking for the radio operator when he was washed away.
I suppose, then, once and for all,
I chose to live rather than be a hero, as I still do today,
although at that time I believed in being heroic, in saving the world,
even if, when opportunity knocked,
I instinctively chose survival.
As evening fell the waves calmed down
and we spotted a boat, not far off, and signaled with a flare gun,
hoping it was English not German.
The only two who cried on being found
were me and a boy from Boston, a gunner.
The rest of the crew kept straight faces.

Biography of Edward Field Edward Field

WWII General Information

WWII Pictures and Posters

WWII History from the BBC

WWII Memorial In Washington, D.C.

From "Elegy for a Dead Soldier" by Karl Shapiro

A white sheet on the tailgate of a truck becomes an altar,
Two small candlesticks sputter at each side of the crucifix
Laid round with flowers brighter than the blood
Red as the red of our apocalypse
Hibiscus that a marching man will pluck
To stick into his rifle or his hat
And great blue morning glories
Pale as lips that shall no longer taste or kiss or swear
The wind begins a low magnificat
The chaplain chats
The palm trees swirl their hair
The columns come together through the mud

The time to mourn is short that best becomes
The military dead.
We lift and fold the flag,
Lay bare the coffin with its written tag,
And march away.
Behind, four others wait
To lift the box, the heaviest of loads.
The anesthetic afternoon benumbs,
Sickens our senses, forces back our talk.
We know that others on tomorrows roads
Will fall, ourselves perhaps, the man beside,
Over the world the threatened, all who walk:
And could we mark the grave of him who died
We could write this beneath his name and date:


Underneath this wooden cross there lies
A Christian killed in battle.
You who read,
Remember that this stranger died in pain;
And passing here, if you can lift your eyes
Upon a peace kept by human creed,
Know that one soldier has not died in vain.

Related Links
Biography of Karl Shapiro

Comments On "Elegy for a Dead Soldier"

Shapiro reads part of "Elegy for a Dead Soldier"

Helpful Links to Find Poetry Online

Poet Bios and poems

Search for Poems

Poems Online

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Related Links

World War II Posters

World War II Posters

World War II Photos

Wings of Memory Society:A fund raising project for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspired by Pavel Friedman's poem "The Butterfly."

World War II Songs

Nazi Propaganda Posters

Nazi Quotation Posters
I hope not to offend anyone by including Nazi propaganda. My intention in providing this information is to create an opportunity for comparing American and Nazi art/propaganda during the war.

More Light! More Light! By Anthony Hecht

For Heinrich Blucher and Hannah Arendt

Composed in the Tower before his execution
These moving verses, and being brought at that time
Painfully to the stake, submitted, declaring thus:
"I implore my God to witness that I have made no crime."
Nor was he forsaken of courage, but the death was horrible,
The sack of gunpowder failing to ignite.
His legs were blistered sticks on which the black sap
Bubbled and burst as he howled for the Kindly Light.
And that was but one, and by no means one of he worst;
Permitted at least his pitiful dignity;
And such as were by made prayers in the name of Christ,
That shall judge all men, for his soul's tranquility.
We move now to outside a German wood.
Three men are there commanded to dig a hole
In which the two Jews are ordered to lie down
And be buried alive by the third, who is a Pole.
Not light from the shrine at Weimar beyond the hill
Nor light from heaven appeared. But he did refuse.
A Luger settled back deeply in its glove.
He was ordered to change places with the Jews.
Much casual death had drained away their souls.
The thick dirt mounted toward the quivering chin.
When only the head was exposed the order came
To dig him out again and to get back in.
No light, no light in the blue Polish eye.
When he finished a riding boot packed down the earth.
The Luger hovered lightly in its glove.
He was shot in the belly and in three hours bled to death.
No prayers or incense rose up in those hours
Which grew to be years, and every day came mute
Ghosts from the ovens, sifting through crisp air,
And settled upon his eyes in a black soot.

More information about Anthony Hecht, including scholar's comments on his works, a detailed biography, and other related links. Anthony Hecht

Friday, May 21, 2004


Following are links to four different poems from WWII. Each poem is from a different perspective and provides different incites into how the war affected different people.

"Hitler has only got one ball" World War II song

"Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" by Randall Jarrell

"The Butterfly" by Pavel Friedmann

"A Soldier's Conversion" by Frances Angermayer

I am now adding in full copies of these poems to make reading them less work for viewers:)

World War II Song: "Hitler has only got one ball"

England 1939-1940
Hitler, he only had one ball,
Goering, he had two but very small,
Himmler had something simmler,
But poor old Goebbels had no balls at all.
Whistle Chorus:

Frankfurt has only one beer hall,
Stuttgart, die München all on call,
Munich, vee lift our tunich,
To show vee 'Cherman' have no balls at all.
Whistle Chorus:

Hans Otto is very short, not tall,
And blotto, for drinking Singhai and Skol.
A 'Cherman', unlike Bruce Erwin,
Because Hans Otto has no balls at all.
Whistle Chorus:

Hitler has only got one ball,
The other is in the Albert Hall.
His mother, the dirty bugger,
Cut it off when he was small.
Whistle Chorus:

Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
By Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

The Butterfly
By Pavel Friedmann

He was the last. Truly the last.
Such yellowness was bitter and blinding
Like the sun's tear shattered on stone.
That was his true colour.
And how easily he climbed, and how high,
Certainly, climbing, he wanted
To kiss the last of my world.

I have been here for seven weeks,
Who loved me have found me,
Daisies call to me,
And the branches also of the white chestnut in the yard.
But I haven't seen a butterfly here.
That last one was the last one.
There are no butterflies, here, in the ghetto.

A Soldier's Conversion
By Frances Angermayer

Look, God, I have never spoken to You--
But now--I want to say "How do You do,"
You see, God, they told me You didn't exist--
And like a fool--I believed all of this.
Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky--
I figured right then they had told me a lie.
Had I taken time to see the things You made,
I'd known they weren't calling a spade a spade.
I wonder, God, if You'd shake my hand,
Somehow--I feel that You will understand.
Funny--I had to come to this hellish place,
Before I had the time to see Your face.
Well, I guess there isn't much more to say,
But, I'm sure glad, God, I met You today.
I guess the "zero hour" will soon be here,
But I'm not afraid since I know You're near.
The signal! Well, God, I'll have to go.
I like You lots--this I want You to know--
Look, now--this will be a horrible fight--
Who knows--I may come to Your house tonight--
Though I wasn't friendly with You before,
I wonder, God--if You'll wait at Your door--
Look--I'm crying! Me!--shedding tears!--
I wish I' known You these many years--
Well, I will have to go now, God--good-by,
Strange-since I met You--I'm not afraid to die.