War is Kind by Stephen Crane

In this five stanza excerpt from ‘War is Kind’ by Stephen Crane, the poet does not use any pattern of rhyme or rhythm. In fact, the whole poem is written in free verse. But that doesn’t mean that there are moments of rhyme or techniques used to create rhythm. For example, the endings of lines one and five of stanza one rhyme with the words “kind” and “kind”. So do lines three and six of stanza two with “die” and “lie.” These same endings are used again in the fourth stanza of the excerpt. 

In addition to these full rhymes, there are half or slant rhymes. These are also scattered around the text and connect to one another due to assonance, vowel sound, or consonance, consonant sound. For example, “regiment” and “fight” in stanza two. Another example is “kind” and “wild” in stanza one, which are related due to their similar long “i” sounds. 

Repetition is also an important part of the poem. It is a technique used within all forms of poetry, but within free verse writing can help to unify the lines. In the case of ‘War is Kind’ Crane uses and reuses the phrase “War is kind” five times in this excerpt alone. The statement is always preluded by another three line phrase, “Do not weep”. These are two directions both aimed at the “maiden” referenced in the first line. 

 

Summary of War is Kind 

In the first lines of ‘War is Kind’ by Stephen Crane the speaker tells a young woman that she shouldn’t cry because war is kind. He goes on to tell the woman that her “lover threw” his hands in the air while in battle, perhaps because he was injured. In the next stanzas the speaker describes how soldiers usually act in battle and how they are made to fight and die. He also speaks to a child and a mother, telling them not to cry in the face of death either. 

 

Analysis of War is Kind

Stanza One 

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind. 

Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky 

And the affrighted steed ran on alone, 

Do not weep. 

War is kind. 

In the first stanza of ‘War is Kind’ the speaker begins by making use of the refrain. He tells a “maiden,” or unmarried woman, that she should not weep. “War,” he states, is “kind”. This is obviously a very unusual and likely ironic, thing to say.

He goes on to tell the woman that her “lover threw” his hands in the air when he was confronted with war. When this happened, his “steed,” or horse ran alone. It was “affrighted,” a complicated way to say frightened. It is unclear what exactly happened to make the lover throw his hands in the air. Maybe it was in surrender, or perhaps something darker happened and he was injured or even killed. 

The last two lines of this stanza are a reiteration of part of the first line, and the two statements which make up the refrain. These two lines bookend the stanza, as they do with stanzas three and five. 

 

Stanza Two 

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. 

In the second stanza of ‘War is Kind’ the speaker plays with the previous reference to a “steed” and uses the word “Hoarse”. This time though he is referring to the drums played by the regiment of soldiers. They sound “hoarse,” as if they are sick or in need of something to drink. In the next two lines the speaker says the soldiers are “Little souls” and are thirsting not for water, but “for fight”. 

The phrase little souls is interesting, it contrast with the next lines which seem to suggest the men do not have souls. The speaker goes on to say that these men were born for nothing else other than to fight. They were born to “drill” as in train and practice, and then die. They are mechanical in their actions and in their purpose. 

In the fourth line the speaker references “unexplained glory”. There is no clear definitive answer to what this glory is, but it could refer to the ephemeral nature of glory itself. It is something which spectators and outsiders from war imbue upon those who were in war. Glory is not something that actively seeks out soldiers on the battlefield.

In the last lines of the section the speaker mentions a battle god. There are a number of different gods who could fit this description, but the exact name does not matter. What the speaker is doing here is setting out a scene, which is ruled differently than other kingdom. This particular kingdom is nothing more than a field where “a thousand corpses lie”. Its a dark and terrible place, which is ruled over by a powerful force.

 

Stanza Three 

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind. 

Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches, 

Raged at his breast, gulped and died, 

Do not weep. 

War is kind. 

In the third stanza the speaker begins by asking a “babe” not to weep. He has moved on from addressing a woman to speaking to a young child. 

He tells the child that there is no reason to weep, and then provides them with a very good reason to do so. The child’s father, who was in a battle of some kind died in “the yellow trenches”. He had rage in his breast and in the simplest way, “gulped and died”. The “rage” refers to his own thirst for war, and to the injury which killed him. The bullet entered his body, driven by another’s rage. 

The refrain is again repeated. It is starting to become even more haunting as its deep irony is made clear.

 

Stanza Four 

      Swift, blazing flag of the regiment, 

Eagle with crest of red and gold, 

These men were born to drill and die. 

Point for them the virtue of slaughter, 

Make plain to them the excellence of killing 

And a field where a thousand corpses lie. 

The flag of the regiment is  mentioned in the fourth stanza of ‘War is Kind’. It is “blazing” and pattered with a “crest of red and gold” and an eagle. There is another moment of repetition in which the line “These men were born to drill and die” is used again. It is a reminder, and its reuse helps create a rhythm to the poem. Along with the refrain “Do not weep. / War is kind” the poem starts to sound song-like.

In lines four through six of this stanza the speaker goes through some terrible images. He speaks to the flag, and tells it to make sure the men know that there is “virtue” in slaughtering one’s enemies and that there is “excellence” in killing. The stanza ends with the repetition of the line “And a field where a thousand corpses lie.”

 

Stanza Five 

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button 

On the bright splendid shroud of your son, 

Do not weep. 

War is kind.

The fifth stanza of ‘War is Kind’ is directed toward a mother who was faced with the loss of her son. With the alliterative phrase “heart hung humble” the speaker describes the way she stood  before his coffin. Her heart was on the “shroud” of her son, as simple as a button. Crane describes the heart as completing the action, a technique known as metonymy. The excerpt ends with the speaker again telling someone not to cry, and that war is kind. 

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