In ‘The Bombardment’ Lowell explores themes of war, destruction, and fear. The tone is solemn and direct, allowing the poet to describe in piercing detail the fears experienced by the characters in her poem. The losses they suffer are devastating, creating a dark and depressing mood meant to remind the reader of the personal, smaller scale, horrors of war.
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Summary of The Bombardment
The narrator takes the reader into a city that is drowning in both rain and fire. She looks into the life of an old woman, who is clearly wealthy, a child, a poet, and a scientist. All have lost something and all are suffering physically and emotionally. While they take stock of what’s left around them the bombs fall. They spread fire throughout the city and each watches as it grows closer to their own homes. The poem ends with everyone out on the street, trying to find some safety in amongst the horrors of the unnamed war.
Structure of The Bombardment
‘The Bombardment’ by Amy Lowell is a nine stanza poem that is separated into paragraph-like stanzas. These stanzas are long. In parts, they read more like prose than they do a verse. Their appearance on the page resembles a written narrative, an account of the war, more than it does a poetic description of events or emotions.
The stanzas range in length from three lines up to thirteen with the seventh as the shortest and the third as the longest. There is no rhyme scheme nor is there a metrical pattern. But, that doesn’t mean there is no rhyme in the poem at all. There are examples of internal rhyme, as seen within the lines rather than at the ends, as well as half-rhyme. Also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance.
This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “moment” and “stone” in lines one and three of the first stanza and “turmoil” and “gargoyle” in line eight of that same stanza.
Internal rhyme is usually less frequent than half-rhyme, but there are several examples in this poem. For instance, “swarm” and “warm” in line one, and “still” and “will” in line four of the second stanza.
Poetic Techniques in The Bombardment
In addition to half-rhyme and internal rhyme, Lowell makes use of several poetic techniques. This includes, but is not limited to, enjambment, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and anaphora. The latter, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between the first and second lines of the first stanza and lines one and two of the fifth stanza.
An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the natural sound of something, such as “honk,” and “boom”. In the case of ‘The Bombardment,’ the latter is used frequently. The word “Boom,” punctuated by an exclamation mark, appears in almost every stanza of the poem. It mimics the sound of bombs dropping and buildings crumbling. It interrupts thoughts and descriptions. It comes in the middle of dialogue, never allowing the reader to forget the environment.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “sunshine, slipping” in line four of the third stanza and “sobs” and “shrieks” in line five of the fourth stanza.
Analysis of The Bombardment
Slowly, without force, the rain drops into the city. It stops a moment
on the carved head of Saint John, then slides on again, slipping and trickling
over his stone cloak. It splashes from the lead conduit of a gargoyle,
and falls from it in turmoil on the stones in the Cathedral square.
Where are the people, and why does the fretted steeple sweep about in the sky?
Boom! The sound swings against the rain. Boom, again! After it, only water
rushing in the gutters, and the turmoil from the spout of the gargoyle.
Silence. Ripples and mutters. Boom!
In the first stanza of ‘The Bombardment,’ the speaker starts by describing how the rain fell slowing on “the city”. She follows the progress on the water running over a statue, taking detailed note of how it slips and trickles. A reader should pay equally close attention to how Lowell uses half and full rhymes in this poem. They appear in almost every line, providing the poem with an undeniable rhythm. One that is unnaturally upbeat, especially when one considers it alongside the subject matter.
The speaker asks, with the answer already in mind, where all the people are in Cathedral square? They are, of course, sheltering inside from the rain, but also from the bombs falling on the city. The first example of onomatopoeia comes in the sixth line of this stanza. The poet uses the word “Boom!” to mimic the sound of the thunder, but also the bombs.
The room is damp, but warm. Little flashes swarm about from the firelight.
The lustres of the chandelier are bright, and clusters of rubies
leap in the bohemian glasses on the `etagere’. Her hands are restless,
but the white masses of her hair are quite still. Boom! Will it never cease
to torture, this iteration! Boom! The vibration shatters a glass
on the `etagere’. It lies there, formless and glowing,
with all its crimson gleams shot out of pattern, spilled, flowing red,
blood-red. A thin bell-note pricks through the silence. A door creaks.
The old lady speaks: ‘Victor, clear away that broken glass.’ ‘Alas!
Madame, the bohemian glass!’ ‘Yes, Victor, one hundred years ago
my father brought it -‘ Boom! The room shakes, the servitor quakes.
Another goblet shivers and breaks. Boom!
In the second stanza of Lowell’s poem, the speaker takes the reader inside. But, it’s not much more pleasant there than outside. It is “damp,” but at least it’s warm. There are little flashes of light that move through the air due to the firelight. The room is contrasted in warmth and light to the dark and wet outside the door.
There is a woman in the room. She’s restless and her hair is white. She has a lot of it. In the middle of this description comes about “Boom!” reminding the reader of what’s going on outside. She is having a hard time sitting still and frets over the endlessness of the war and the bombing. The vibrations shake the room and break off a piece of the chandelier.
When the glass falls on the ground it breaks, spilling out “crimson gleams” that to the speaker and presumably to the woman in the room as well, appear like blood.
In amongst the danger and fear the woman calls to “Victor,” likely someone who works for her, a servant, and asks him to clean it up. His desire to take care of this one small disaster in amongst a world of never-ending disasters is interesting. As the scene progresses other things shake and break.
It rustles at the window-pane, the smooth, streaming rain, and he is shut
within its clash and murmur. Inside is his candle, his table, his ink,
his pen, and his dreams. He is thinking, and the walls are pierced with
beams of sunshine, slipping through young green. A fountain tosses itself
up at the blue sky, and through the spattered water in the basin he can see
copper carp, lazily floating among cold leaves. A wind-harp in a cedar-tree
grieves and whispers, and words blow into his brain, bubbled, iridescent,
shooting up like flowers of fire, higher and higher. Boom!
The flame-flowers snap on their slender stems. The fountain rears up
in long broken spears of dishevelled water and flattens into the earth. Boom!
And there is only the room, the table, the candle, and the sliding rain.
Again, Boom! – Boom! – Boom! He stuffs his fingers into his ears.
He sees corpses, and cries out in fright. Boom! It is night,
and they are shelling the city! Boom! Boom!
The speaker moves away from the wealthy older woman and into the one of a man. There, the rain is streaming down the window and he is sitting with his candle, thoughts, and “ink…pen, and his dreams”. The man is lost in his own thoughts. There is a peace to this brief reprieve from the destruction that’s satisfying, but it doesn’t last for long. Outside a fountain of water bursts up from the ground. It tosses “itself up at the blue sky”.
In the next lines, the man experiences a cascade of emotions. Images flash before his eyes of “flowers of fire” and flame. There are “copper car” in among the “cold leaves” of the trees and “words” that “blow into his brain”. These lines build on top of one another, a technique known as accumulation. They create an emotional and mental picture of what it is like to suffer through such a bombardment. Eventually, the “Boom!” of the bombs comes back and he stuffs his fingers in his ears, trying to close out everything terrible that’s happening in the world. The last haunting lines of this stanza state that he “sees corpses, and cries out in fright”. They, the speaker adds, are “shelling the city”.
A child wakes and is afraid, and weeps in the darkness. What has made
the bed shake? ‘Mother, where are you? I am awake.’ ‘Hush, my Darling,
I am here.’ ‘But, Mother, something so queer happened, the room shook.’
Boom! ‘Oh! What is it? What is the matter?’ Boom! ‘Where is Father?
I am so afraid.’ Boom! The child sobs and shrieks. The house
trembles and creaks. Boom!
The fourth stanza is one of the shortest in ‘The Bombardment’. It depicts a child who wakes up, calls for its mother. The mother tries to comfort the child but they are so afraid. They can’t stop crying, calling for their father who is likely in even more danger than they are.
Retorts, globes, tubes, and phials lie shattered. All his trials
oozing across the floor. The life that was his choosing, lonely, urgent,
goaded by a hope, all gone. A weary man in a ruined laboratory,
that is his story. Boom! Gloom and ignorance, and the jig of drunken brutes.
Diseases like snakes crawling over the earth, leaving trails of slime.
Wails from people burying their dead. Through the window, he can see
the rocking steeple. A ball of fire falls on the lead of the roof,
and the sky tears apart on a spike of flame. Up the spire,
behind the lacings of stone, zigzagging in and out of the carved tracings,
squirms the fire. It spouts like yellow wheat from the gargoyles, coils round
the head of Saint John, and aureoles him in light. It leaps into the night
and hisses against the rain. The Cathedral is a burning stain on the white,
In the fifth stanza of ‘The Bombardment,’ the speaker takes the reader to a laboratory where everything has been destroyed. The weary scientist is looking over his shattered globes and tubes. Everything is destroyed and his “trials” are “oozing across the floor”. What he spent his entire life on is lost.
This stanza is only one more example of the skillful way that Lowell takes the reader through a variety of different experiences. This man is living through the same bombardment but is suffering a different kind of loss. When the man looks out through the window he can see the “rocking steeple” of the church. There is fire on the roof that squirms along with the “carved tracings”. Saint John, who adorns the church, has “aureoles” or halos of light around him. The fire is powerful. It hisses and leaps, personified to seem like animals, in the rain. The cathedral is coming apart before the man’s eyes.
Boom! The Cathedral is a torch, and the houses next to it begin to scorch.
Boom! The bohemian glass on the `etagere’ is no longer there.
Boom! A stalk of flame sways against the red damask curtains.
The old lady cannot walk. She watches the creeping stalk and counts.
Boom! – Boom! – Boom!
The sixth stanza of ‘The Bombardment’ provides the reader with a great example of anaphora. The first word of four of these five lines starts with the word “Boom!” It is a pattern of destruction that no one can stop. The cathedral is on fire, as are the houses next to it. The glass in the wealthy woman’s home is “no longer there” and fire climbs up the “red damask curtains”. The luxury and the poverty, all is destroyed.
To add to the fear at this moment, the narrator speaks of the old lady and how she “cannot walk”. She watches the fire come towards her and there’s nothing she can do.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
The poet rushes into the street, and the rain wraps him in a sheet of silver.
But it is threaded with gold and powdered with scarlet beads. The city burns.
Quivering, spearing, thrusting, lapping, streaming, run the flames.
Over roofs, and walls, and shops, and stalls. Smearing its gold on the sky,
the fire dances, lances itself through the doors, and lisps and chuckles
along the floors.
The child wakes again and screams at the yellow petalled flower
flickering at the window. The little red lips of flame creep along
the ceiling beams.
The poet who was sitting with his paper and ink in the third stanza runs outside. The air is filled with rain and “scarlet beads” of ash and fire. He watches as the city burns around him. The third line contains five words that end in “-ing.” This list depicts the movement of the flames. They move every way and do everything one can imagine.
The eighth stanza of ‘The Bombardment,’ which is the shortest of the poem, brings the reader back to the child who is awake again and screaming. The fire is at their window.
The old man sits among his broken experiments and looks at
the burning Cathedral. Now the streets are swarming with people.
They seek shelter and crowd into the cellars. They shout and call,
and over all, slowly and without force, the rain drops into the city.
Boom! And the steeple crashes down among the people. Boom! Boom, again!
The water rushes along the gutters. The fire roars and mutters. Boom!
In the last stanza of ‘The Bombardment,’ the old man in the laboratory sits with his broken experiments. He is alone, as are all the other characters in Lowell’s poem. They are all unified by their separation from one another and the danger they’re all experiencing at the same time.
The streets have progressed from being empty in the first lines to full in these concluding ones. Everyone is outside looking for shelter, trying to get away from the flames. They yell to one another and the rain continues to fall. Finally, the steeple which has suffered under the burden of the fire for a while falls. The water and fire intermingle, one unable to rid itself of the other. The pome ends with a series of onomatopoeic “Booms!”. This leaves the reader to interpret for themselves the fate of those suffering in this unnamed city.