There they go marching all in step so gay!
Smooth-cheeked and golden, food for shells and guns.
Blithely they go as to a wedding day,
The mothers' sons.
The drab street stares to see them row on row
On the high tram-tops, singing like the lark.
Too careless-gay for courage, singing they go
Into the dark.
With tin whistles, mouth-organs, any noise,
They pipe the way to glory and the grave;
Foolish and young, the gay and golden boys
Love cannot save.
High heart! High courage! The poor girls they kissed
Run with them : they shall kiss no more, alas!
Out of the mist they stepped-into the mist
Singing they pass.
• Colours – refers to the flags and emblems of different regiments of the army
What is the poem about?
The poem is about young men in Dublin joining the army to fight for Britain in the World War. This is their parade out of the city after having signed up, as they make their way to where they will be trained to fight. The speaker is outside the action, a woman watching the men going, and reflecting on their cheery marching and send-off, but also the likely outcome of their going to war: their deaths. As the speaker is talking in the 3rd person shown by the use of pronouns (they), the poem is less bitter than “Recruiting”.
· Regular rhyme and rhythm – reflects the marching and cheerful songs of the men as they leave the city, excited and happy to be going to war.
· However – the last line of each stanza is significantly shorter than the rest of the lines – which breaks this rhythm. It makes you think and draws attention (perhaps) to the abrupt end their lives could come to. It upsets the otherwise quite cheerful sounding mood of the poem. Look at what the poet is specifically emphasising in each line.
How does the poet highlight the youth of the men leaving the city? – “Smooth-cheeked”, “golden”, “The mothers’ sons”. They play “tin whistles, mouth-organs” which are quite childish instruments, and the people they have kissed are “girls” not women. Their happiness could also reflect their naivety and the fact they have no idea what they are going to. They leave cheerfully and full of excitement and noise. The great number of the men is emphasised by the repetition of “row on row”. The suggestion is that the men will be greatly missed; the poet personifies (gives human characteristics to an object) the street: “The drab street stares” – the word “drab” suggests either that the men are taking the life with them, or that they could possibly be escaping to somewhere more exciting.
Juxtaposition is when two seemingly unrelated things are directly contrasted for a particular effect. In this poem, the poet directly contrasts (juxtaposes) the cheerful leaving of the men, and their youth and innocence, with their possible deaths: “Smooth-cheeked and golden, food for shells and guns” – this shows them as they are now, and what they will become in the war – just fresh meat for the war machine. The poet then describes their marching as though they are going “to a wedding day” – which is usually a time of celebration of a new life (and potential new lives with the children a marriage can bring) – so this again is a contrast. The whole poem is built around strange and sometimes ironic contrasts: “singing they go/Into the dark” – cheerful singing, but they are going to somewhere unknown and possible death. “They pipe the way to glory and the grave” – this contrast is particularly emphasised by the alliteration (glory, grave) – the two possible outcomes of them joining the war.
• Enjambment – when a sentence runs over the end of a line. Also known as a run-on line.
“High heart! High courage! The poor girls they kissed,
Run with them: they shall kiss no more, alas!”
Why does the poet use enjambment here? – it reflects the fact that the girls are running after the men, as though they are getting carried away by the emotion and so is the poet.
She also uses a caesura (mid-line pause) immediately after this – why does she want you to pause now? – it really draws attention to the fact that these girls will be left alone and won’t be kissed by these boys anymore.
• Regular rhyme and rhythm
• A civilian watching as young men in Dublin leave the city for the army
• Emphasises the youth and naivety of the men, and then juxtaposes (contrasts) this with images of death and destruction in war.