It's just another day on the battlefields of World War I . As our speaker lets us know right away, however, "normal" isn't a word that has any meaning for the soldiers anymore. They're all mentally and physically ravaged by the exertions of battle.And then it gets worse. Just as the men are heading home for the night, gas shells drop beside them. The soldiers scramble for their gas masks in a frantic attempt to save their own lives. Unfortunately, they don't all get to their masks in time. Our speaker watches as a member of his crew chokes and staggers in the toxic fumes, unable to save him from an excruciating certain death.Now fast-forward. It's some time after the battle, but our speaker just can't get the sight of his dying comrade out of his head. The soldier's image is everywhere: in the speaker's thoughts, in his dreams, in his poetry. Worst of all, our speaker can't do anything to help the dying soldier. Bitterly, the speaker finally addresses the people at home who rally around the youth of England, and urge them to fight for personal glory and national honor. He wonders how they can continue to call for war. If they could only witness the physical agony war creates - or even experience the emotional trauma that the speaker's going through now - the speaker thinks they might change their views. In the speaker's mind, there's noting glorious or honorable about death. Or, for that matter, war itself The speaker begins by asking God (along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost; together, they are the Trinity that makes up the Christian "three-personed God") to attack his heart as if it were the gates of a fortress town. The speaker wants God to enter his heart aggressively and violently, instead of gently. Then, in line 5, the speaker explicitly likens himself to a captured town. He tries to let God enter, but has trouble because the speaker's rational side seems to be in control.At the "turn" of the poem (see the "Form and Meter" section for more on the importance of the sonnet form and, specifically, the "turn"), the speaker admits that he loves God, and wants to be loved, but is tied down to God's unspecified "enemy" instead, whom we can think of as Satan, or possibly "reason." The speaker asks God to break the speaker's ties with the enemy, and to bring the speaker to Him, not letting him go free. He then explains why he wants all of this, reasoning with double meanings: he can't really be free unless God enslaves and excites him, and he can't refrain from sex unless God carries him away and delights him. This short poem is not spoken by a human being, but by the grass. (That's some pretty impressive vegetation, if we do say so ourselves.) In the first stanza, the grass commands soldiers to "pile the bodies high" at Austerlitz and Waterloo, two famous battlefields from the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century. The grass then says that it covers "all." In the second stanza, the grass lists other famous battlefields—Gettysburg from the Civil War, and Ypres and Verdun, from WWI. It commands soldiers to pile the bodies high again. The grass imagines that, in the future, ordinary people will travel on trains past the battlefields, and wonder what they are; they will not remember the battles or see signs of them on the landscape. The grass then ends the poem with the declaration: "let me work." Death, in the form of a gentleman suitor, stops to pick up the speaker and take her on a ride in his horse-drawn carriage.They move along at a pretty relaxed pace and the speaker seems completely at ease with the gentleman. As they pass through the town, she sees children at play, fields of grain, and the setting sun. Pretty peaceful, right?As dusk sets in our speaker gets a little chilly, as she is completely under-dressed - only wearing a thin silk shawl for a coat. She was unprepared for her impromptu date with Death when she got dressed that morning. They stop at what will be her burial ground, marked with a small headstone.In the final stanza, we find out the speaker's ride with Death took place centuries ago (so she's been dead for a long time). But it seems like just yesterday when she first got the feeling that horse heads (like those of the horses that drew the "death carriage") pointed toward "Eternity"; or, in other words, signaled the passage from life to death to an afterlife. We know from the title that the speaker of this poem is a black girl. She's singing, and we're going to guess that she's singing something like the blues.
She uses the refrain, "Way Down South in Dixie," so she's somewhere in the Deep South, maybe Louisiana or Georgia. But then we get these weird parentheses, which let us know that someone or something is breaking our speaker's heart. In other words, keep the Kleenex close.
We find out that her heart is breaking because her lover, who is also black, has been lynched. He's hanging from a tree that's in a crossroads, so people can see him as they pass.
The refrain repeats, and then we get an image of the brutality of the lover's death—he's been beaten up and is hanging high in the air. Our speaker is so upset by his death that she wonders, what's the use of praying to a white Jesus?Then, in the last stanza, we return to the same first two lines as the first stanza. After we're reminded that the speaker's heart is broken, way down South, she give us the metaphor to end all metaphors. Love is a shadow—a naked one, on a gnarled and naked tree.
Sonnet 130 is like a love poem turned on its head. Usually, if you were talking about your beloved, you would go out of your way to praise her, to point all the ways that she is the best. In this case, though, Shakespeare spends this poem comparing his mistress's appearance to other things, and then telling us how she doesn't measure up to them. He goes through a whole laundry list, giving us details about the flaws of her body, her smell, even the sound of her voice. Then, at the end, he changes his tune and tells us about his real and complete love for her. The poet makes his point clear from line 1: true love always perseveres, despite any obstacles that may arise. He goes on to define love by what it doesn't do, claiming that it stays constant, even though people and circumstances may change. Love never dies, even when someone tries to destroy it. Rather than being something that comes and goes, love is eternal and unchanging - so much so that the poet compares it to the North Star, which never moves in the sky and guides lost ships home. This metaphorical star is mysterious and perhaps incomprehensible, even though we can chart its location.Moving on to a new image, love isn't at the beck and call of time (or time's consequences, age and death); mortality isn't an issue for true love, which doesn't fade even when youth and beauty disappear. Love doesn't change as the days go by; rather, it remains strong until the lover's dying day (or beyond...chew on that for a while).Finally, the poet stakes his own reputation on this definition, boldly claiming that if anyone can prove him wrong, he'll eat his words. That is to say, if this idea of love turns out to be wrong, then he'll take back everything he wrote and it'll be as though it never existed. Furthermore, if this specific portrayal of love is somehow proved to be the wrong one, then nobody, as far as the poet is concerned, has ever loved at all.