Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Ivor Gurney - The Target

I shot him, and it had to be
One of us "Twas him or me.
'Couldn’t be helped' and none can blame 
Me, for you would do the same.

My mother, she can’t sleep for fear
Of what might be a-happening here
To me. Perhaps it might be best
To die, and set her fears at rest.

For worst is worst, and worry's done. 
Perhaps he was the only son. . .
Yet God keeps still, and does not say
A word of guidance anyway.

Well, if they get me, first I'll find
That boy, and tell him all my mind,
And see who felt the bullet worst,
And ask his pardon, if I durst.

All's a tangle. Here's my job.
A man might rave, or shout, or sob;
And God He takes no sort of heed.
This is a bloody mess indeed.

What is the poem about?
This is a monologue (a speech given directly to the audience) from the point of view of a soldier. He details how he has killed another man and his thoughts on it. The poem shows us the effect of the war on the ordinary man, as well as questioning the idea of religion and God’s role in this war.

      A very simple aabb rhyme scheme (rhyming couplets) – we are being spoken to by an ordinary man – the language in some ways reflects this as well.
      Look at the uses of enjambments and caesuras. Why does the poet use these? What effect do they create? – it is like an ordinary person is speaking to us, like in “Lamentations” – an ordinary soldier would not be tied by line lengths if he was explaining something to us.

The language is very simplistic, even using some colloquial language and slang: “’Twas”, “a-happening”, “durst”. This reflects the ordinary man telling his story. The implication is that war makes men into killers: “I shot him, and it had to be” – he had no other option but to do that, it was kill or be killed. The speaker almost challenges us to argue with him: “none can blame/Me, for you would do the same.”
The speaker displays a sense of sympathy for the man he killed: “Perhaps he was the only son...” with the ellipsis (...) suggesting he is thinking.
There is a sense of being abandoned by God: “Yet God keeps still, and does not say/A word of guidance any way.”
The effect of the war on the men is shown when the speaker says “And see who felt the bullet first” – there is a sense that death in this poem is by no means the worst effect of war – it’s the killing and the waiting which is the worst – and for those at home (“Perhaps it might be best/To die, and set her fears at rest.”)
The confusion and inescapable nature of the war is expressed through “All’s tangle” – the speaker is trapped in something he can’t control and just has to get on with his “job”.
The final line could be interpreted in a variety of ways: “This is a bloody mess indeed.” – a comment on the war with language appropriate for an ordinary man – or literally referring to the “bloody”ness of the war.

In summary
      1st person narrator – an ordinary soldier explaining why he killed a German and how he now feels about it
      Looks at a common war poetry theme – that death would be preferable to carrying on in the war.
      A sense of God having abandoned them

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