The Eleven O’clock News is about watching reports of a war taking place on the news. The poem then describes how this relates to the narrator’s own experiences of having lost their father in the fighting. The poem drifts between images seen on TV and dealing with the real life fallout from the unnamed conflict. In the final stanza there seems to be a sense of foreboding and the suggestion could be that the narrator’s son could one day go on to follow in the footsteps of their grandfather who unfortunately lost his life.
Form and Tone
The poem is written in free verse. It is separated into six uneven stanzas. There is no discernible rhyming pattern although there are a few end rhymes in the second stanza. This could be a coincidence or contain a symbolism. The tone is quite down beat. The poem describes the effects of war presumably from the standpoint of someone who is watching stories of war on the late night news.
The Eleven O’clock News Analysis
The beginning of this stanza describes what sounds like a war zone. It is likely that this is a scene being watched on a news report owing to the title of the poem. (Although that isn’t necessarily the case) The hills are described as being “Green jagged toothed” straight away this description creates a tension as it is a negative description. It describes a soldier wearing a “white badge of honour” on his foot. Is this a way of describing a plaster cast? Or perhaps more shockingly a prosthesis. The seventh line of this stanza is particularly profound as it states that this soldiers eyes “say nothing” is this because he has had his spirit crushed? Has the light behind his eyes been extinguished? Maybe. The narrator then continues to describe two further soldiers who are smiling and send a message home to their families that they are alive. This message once again gives the suggestion that this scene is indeed playing out on the news.
Here we see the other side of the war. In the first stanza the scenes described were relatively positive. Certainly the image of the soldiers proclaiming that they were alive and coming home could be construed that way. Here we are afforded no such positive news. One of the soldiers has died. What is interesting is the soldiers in the first stanza are generic, this guy is given a name. The stanza then goes on to talk about his wife’s reaction to his death. She reacts badly and interestingly the narrator seems to mirror her actions. They huddle up and join in with her “cries” why is this? It is revealed in the following stanza but leaving such an ominous action without explaining it creates a palpable tension as we continue into the third stanza.
It would appear that the narrator’s own father had passed away. Her feelings on this are quite mixed. It doesn’t appear to provide much solace that her dad had died a hero. The reason that this doesn’t provide her with any comfort is that it doesn’t afford her a way to comfort her own son who has lost his grandad. She questions how she is supposed to explain “death, war or country” to a two year old. As a father of a two year old I completely understand where she is coming from! It isn’t enough that she has to have this talk with her child, but she has to do so whilst clearly grieving herself.
We return to the newscast at the start of this stanza. The narrator talks of the newscaster talking of facts and figures and this is an interesting thing to comment on. I think this is trying to make a statement about how these men are just numbers to the newscaster but actually those numbers reflect actual lives. There is a striking image in the sixth line with the ringing of phones being ascribed a sepulchral tone. This can mean gloomy but can also mean pertaining to a tomb. It further goes on to describe telegrams weighed down by death. This entire stanza creates a very grim image of war time and really helps to drive home the gravity of the deaths that wars cause.
This stanza contains the narrator detailing what they have gleaned about their enemy, one would presume from the news. The description of them does not describe savages actions but rather luxurious conditions that they are enjoying. This is meant to act as propaganda and is compared to the cold conditions that the “allies” have to deal with. However the narrator makes a valid point by pointing out that that isn’t the life they are leading. They don’t have to go without. This calls in to question why there is even a conflict. Clearly the narrator has enjoyed a good standard of life but now they know of loss having lost their father.
This is an interesting way to close out the poem. The narrator references their son who is described as ivory skinned. This suggests that the poem is not autobiographical as it’s unlikely that Nair would have children with white skin. The boy is described as untainted. Perhaps because he doesn’t watch the news? But it would seem like at school he is already being pre conditioned to understand nationalism. The act of drawing the borders for his home nation in a red pen is significant. It gives that statement a sense of foreboding. I think the suggestion is that the young boy will go on to eventually fight for his country.
About Anita Nair
Anita Nair is an Indian writer who writes her poetry in the English language. She resides in Bangalore with her husband and son. She is famous, not just for her poetry, but for her works of fiction as well. Her first publication came in 1997 and was a collection of short stories called Satyr of the Subway. She has had a successful career by all accounts having published a great deal of books and been nominated for several prestigious honours and awards.