Katharine Tynan

Joining the Colours by Katharine Tynan

Joining the Colours’ by Katharine Tynan was published in the midst of the First World War and details the lives of Irish soldiers joining Britain in the fight. The text depicts the soldiers moving through the streets of the city, marching in a parade. The speaker, who is separate from the group, describes, utilizing metaphor and simile, the way the men appear. Their innocence is contrasted with the terror they’re about to experience. They were “singing like the lark” as they went “Into the dark”. The final stanza implies that the soldiers are not going to come back. They step into the “mist / Singing they pass”. 

We've analysed this poem twice

We’ve analysed this poem twice, months apart, to provide two fresh analysis on this Katharine Tynan poem.
Read the second analysis


Poetic Techniques Joining the Colours 

Joining the Colours’ by Katharine Tynan is a four stanza poem divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD, and so on, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. 

Tynan also makes use of several other poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, juxtaposition, and caesura. The latter, caesura, occurs when a line is split in half. Sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. There are a number of examples of this technique being employed in ‘Joining the Colours’ but some include line two of the second stanza, line three of the third, and line two of the fourth with “Run with them : they shall kiss no more, alas!”

Juxtaposition is a technique that places multiple ideas or images close together, enhancing the meaning for the reader. In the case of ‘Joining the Colours’ Tynan describes the men marching to their almost inevitable deaths while appearing “gay and golden” and while “singing”. 

You can read the full poem here.


Other Poetic Techniques

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. Some examples from ‘Joining the Colours’ include, “golden” and “guns” in the second line of the first stanza and “careless-gay” and “courage” in the third line of the second stanza. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line stops before one would naturally pause for breath. It 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. Tynan utilizes enjambment in almost every stanza when the third line transitions into the fourth. It helps to enhance the drama, and dark foreshadowing present in the final three stanzas. 


Analysis of Joining the Colours 

Stanza One

There they go marching all in step so gay!
The mothers’ sons.

In the first stanza of ‘Joining the Colours,’ the speaker begins with an action. “They”, the young men going off to war are “all in step”. This alludes to the parade or procession in which they are marching out of the city and towards their orders and destinies. They appear to the speaker, “so gay!”. They are happy, young, and as the next line describes “golden”. The men are in their prime. Rather than experiencing life in all its glory though, they are joining the war. 

The second line emphasizes how, to the speaker, young the men look. Their cheeks are smooth as if they’ve yet to start shaving. The speaker doesn’t think the men know the trade they are making. It appears to this observer as though they are “blithe” or blissfully ignorant about their true circumstances. Tynan makes use of a simile to compare their march to that which one would engage in as they head to “a wedding day”. 

In the last line, the speaker makes a simple statement. She says the boys are “mothers’ sons”. This is obviously a true statement. But, it’s one that needed to be repeated. Therefore, no one forgets their humanity and the people who love them. 


Stanza Two

The drab street stares to see them row on row
Into the dark.

The second stanza of ‘Joining the Colours’ is similar in structure to the first. In this section of lines, the speaker describes how many people turned out to see the boys off. They “stare” at the boys as they move through the streets.

The speaker says that they are “too careless-gay for courage”. This alludes to her suspicion that the boys don’t know what they’re headed towards. If they did, they might be said to be acting courageously. Enjambment is used very successfully in the third and fourth lines as the “dark” of the future is brought back into the narrative. It is unavoidable. 


Stanza Three

With tin whistles, mouth-organs, any noise,
Love cannot save.

In the third stanza of ‘Joining the Colours’, the speaker further describes the way the boys are “pip[ing] the way to glory and the grave”. This alliterative phrase is quite moving and reminds the reader of what’s at stake. The boys play “tin whistles, mouth-organs” and make “any noise” they can in celebration. 

The boys, the speaker repeats, are “gay and golden” as well as “Foolish and young”. There is nothing that can save them, not even the “Love” of their mothers.


Stanza Four

High heart! High courage! The poor girls they kissed
Singing they pass.

Tynan uses repetition in the fourth stanza of ‘Joining the Colours’ as the boys pass through the crowd and out into the “mist”. The mist is a clear symbol of death and the unknown. There is a moving image in the first and second lines of girls they “kissed” running with them for as long as they can. The speaker makes it clear that they “shall kiss no more”. That being said, she wishes there was something that could be done to stop their deaths, but now that they’ve started on this path they can’t turn back. They “pass” out of the town and away from the crowd and all that might’ve kept them alive. 

We've analysed this poem twice

We’ve analysed this poem twice, months apart, to provide two fresh analysis on this Katharine Tynan poem.
Read the second analysis

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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