Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Analysis of "Eighth Air Force" by Randall Jarrell

Original poem reprinted online here: "Eighth Air Force" by Randall Jarrell
More information about the Poet:  Randall Jarrell


Cinquains with a couplet rhyme scheme at the end of each stanza.  In the poem there's the continuous image of youth through the obvious symbol of "puppy," but what's intertwined with the youth is a sense of obvious violence as well.  However, how do this images interact?

"If, in an odd angle of the butment, / A puppy laps the water from a can / Of flowers, and the drunk sergeant shaving."  So we're introduced to the setting -- there's flowers and puppies, and then there's a butment with a drunk sergeant shaving.  Not necessarily violence, but there seems to be a foreshadow of something more, but, "Whistles O Paradiso!--shall I say that man / Is not as men have said: a wolf to man?"  What's the most important part that's added here is the judgement call. Not from the speaker, but what the speaker expects the outsiders (readers) to think.  This perspective continues throughout the piece.  However, the neither wolf nor man definition continues as well.  The mention of O Paradiso! feels like it's trying too hard to ironize the piece with already obvious symbols.

"The other murderers troop in yawning; / Three of them play Pitch, one sleeps, and one / Lies counting missions, " So the violence is there, but only in name.  murderer is the title that is given to the people, but what are they actually doing -- sleeping, counting missions, play pitch.  The speaker is humanizing people and not going off the concept which is the core of this piece -- the concept (which comes from symbols like the puppy and the O Paradiso!) versus the actual -- men shaving, men sleeping.  "Till even his heart beats: One; One; One. / O murderers! ... Still, this is how it's done:"  Note the singular, the man counting missions, and how the "one" is more of an illusive symbol: unit, last mission, responsibility (I am the one), then the culmination of "murderers" again strikes more of a personal cord, "This is a war" and this line is the slight justification to change a topic.  The poem could go more with the "war aspect."

Instead, "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--"  The speaker reveals himself in the end, but before there is a sense of a unified fatalism that cleanses the stain of murderer.  Cleansed to the point of innocence -- puppies with their puppy,  This is what the speaker looks back upon, but not necessarily what the speaker wants, "I will content the people as I can/ and give up these to them: Behold the man!"  These lines seem more self-referential to the poem itself.  The act of humanizing with the "Behold the man!" focusing more on the "man" part and not the "murderer" apart.

"I have suffered, in a dream, because of him, /Many things; for this last savior, man, / I have lied as I lie now, But what is lying?"  Dream and lying are important aspects to this poem.  The pun of "lie" intertwines with the personal, the poem, and the audience.  The speaker is lying in multiple ways, lying physically, and possibly lying to himself, the him, and to the audience, but why?  "This last savior" Yes, murdering people is not something justifiable to some -- even in war.

So when the rhetorical question comes of "what is lying." the image, "Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can" has so many emotional tweaks with each phrase.  "Men wash their hands" is the action of cleansing or wanting to cleanse -- "in blood" is what is left with the lack of anything else around -- not water.  Why is this important?  A title sticks and no amount of water can change that.  "as best they can" and no matter how hard they try, they try because that's all they can do.

"I find no fault in this just man."  "Just" is a hard adjective to swallow here because the reader has to sympathize with the perspective of the speaker in order for the line to work.  It's one of the few cases where the rhetorical argument constructed with hyperbolic images has to be taken seriously in order for the last line to work.  This is war.  It's a difficult concept to wrap the mind around.  Behold the man!  Just seem the person as a person is also another hard concept to understand.

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