WITH RAZOR SHARP WIT & BITING SATIRE HE HAS COME TO CHAMPION AN ENTIRELY NEW KIND OF WAR HERO.
The opening stanza fires a volley straight into the face of tradition.
Parody of opening lines of Virgil’s Aeneid (“I sing of arms and a man”)
hero is a man famous not for feats of stupendous bloodshed but for his
Cummings’ witticisms1. THE FORCED RHYME OF “ WAR” :PARODIES THE TRANSLATIONS OF THE CLASSIC EPICS
2. SEPARATING OUT THE WORD “OBJECT” :SHOWS THE INHUMAN TREATMENT OLAF RECEIVES FOR HIS BELIEFS
Warning: lookout for other inversions, puns,
allusions, and sarcasm to come!
1. Several sadistic ordeals2. Escorted by a West Point- educated colonel3. Sent to gauntlet of “noncoms”, (noncommissioned officers)4. Knocked on head5. Freeze in water6. Scour with “muddy” toilet brush7. Strike with “blunt instruments”
“most succinctly bred”
what kind of men, and by extension what kind of
society, would sanction such brutality.
THE WORD “ TRIG” :
Scandinavian word meaning:
1.pleasingly neat, trim, orderly2.loyal associated with soldiers
Trig can be ironic since:
1. Olaf is Scandinavian & loyal to his word2. Also specifying colonel’s west point pedigree holds the whole military responsible for ape acts they do on olaf
“noncoms” can have two meaning:
2.Cummings’ habit of adding prefixes to words,
to create neologistic antonyms like “nonsun” or
DESPITE BEING BEATEN TO HALF DEAD OLAF:1. REFUSES TO FIGHT BACK2. DOESN’T KOWTOW3. RESPOND WITHOUT GETTING ANNOYED
(“wanting any rag / upon what God unto him gave”) shows he was stripped naked
(“being to all intents a corpse”)Shows he was half beaten to death
Cummings’ message: Olaf’s heroism lies not in action, but in his unwillingness to subjugate his personal ethics to those of the mindless majority.
Olaf, Cummings wants to say:
IS NOT A REBEL WITH A CAUSE, BUT A TRUE PACIFIST WHOSE BRAND OF NOBILITY IS ASSERTED BY THE USE OF A CAPITAL “I”—AN HONOR THAT CUMMINGS DOES NOT EXTEND TO HIS NARRATOR.
impact of the word “Fuck”
NOT MERELY TRYING TO SHOCK HIS READERS HERE. HE IS ALSO HOPING TO RAISE THE QUESTION OF WHICH IS THE GREATER EVIL:
“FOUL-MOUTHED, CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION OR OFFICIALLY APPROVED TORTURE?”
The next couplet provides a little comic relief
DEPICTING THE COLONEL IN A CARTOONISH DOUBLETAKE HE IS REACTING AS MUCH TO OLAF’S “OATH” AS TO HIS STUBBORN RESOLVE ADJECTIVE “SILVER” CONJURES BOTH A MEDAL- BEDECKED UNIFORM AND A GRAYING HEAD OF HAIR, BOTH SYMBOLS OF THE OLD WORLD ORDER THAT THE NARRATOR IS TRYING TO UNSEAT
the torment continues in the next stanza
THE USE OF “RECTUM” AND “SHIT” NOT ONLY RESUMES THE SHOCK
TREATMENT; IT ALSO HELPS UNCOVER THE INSULT IN
after the kicking and screaming, it is the soldiers’
“voices and boots” that are “much the worse” for the wear.
IN THE FOLLOWING STANZA
CUMMINGS CARRIES HIS INDICTMENT ALL THE WAY UP TO THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, WHO TOES THE LINE LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE AND THROWS OLAF IN PRISON, “WHERE HE DIED.” NEXT
TO COME UNDER FIRE IS CHRIST HIMSELF, WHOSE “MERCY INFINITE” APPARENTLY DOES NOT EXTEND TO FELLOW PACIFISTS.
Taking thrust at the military, the President, and the Savior is over!
It is our turn now!Me, you, and of course the narrator to face the final weapon!
None of us are free of guilt, he suggests, if we stand by
and let this kind of thing happen. And what is worse, none of us is safe.
If a big “blond” i.e all Americans
Get to torture a really brave man (olaf)So easily,