Gift in Wartime
By Tran Mong Tu
The first stanza opens with speaker offering roses and a wedding gown in her husband’s grave. In the second stanza, he gives the speaker medals, silver stars, and a badge. These items seem to be less meaningful and personal than the items that the speaker offers.
The pattern ‘the speaker offers much more than her husband’ continues throughout the poem, except in the final stanza. In the third stanza, the speaker offers him her youth. The fourth stanza reveals that her husband gives her the smell of blood. For the speaker her husband’s offerings are insignificant to her.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker gives him clouds of summer. She sacrifices her cold winters and springs. In the sixth stanza, it is mentioned that her husband remains unmoved by these offerings. In return he gives the speaker lips with no smile, arms without tenderness and eyes with no sight as he is dead.
In the final stanza, the speaker deeply apologizes to her husband about her complain regarding his offerings. The speaker promises to meet him in their next life. She will keep the shrapnel as a token, which will help them know and recognize each other in next life.
Understanding the text
Answer the following questions.
- Who is the speaker addressing and why can that person not hear or understand what she is saying?
She is addressing her husband. He cannot hear or understand what she is saying because he is dead.
- What can you infer about the speaker’s feelings for the person addressed as “you”?
The speaker’s feelings for the person addressed as “you” are full of love and devotion.
- What is the speaker’s attitude toward war?
The speaker has bitter attitude towards war.
- In what ways do you think this person’s fate has affected the speaker?
The speaker has been widowed. She has lost her youth. She is now alone in this world.
- What does the speaker promise at the end of the poem? Why do you think the speaker does this?
At the end of the poem, the speaker promises to meet her beloved in their next life. She will keep the shrapnel as a token to recognize each other. I think the speaker does this to express her sincere love for him.
Reference to the context
- What is the theme of the poem?
The poem has the themes of lamentation for the loss and meaninglessness of lives lost in war. The speaker has lost her husband in war. In return she gets medals, silver stars and a badge, and they are of no use as he is not alive. She has been widowed and all alone now.
- What imagery from the poem made the greatest impression on you? Why?
The image of the motionless body made the greatest impression on me. The body has lips with no smile, arms without tenderness and eyes with no sight. The dead body represents the loss caused by the war. The speaker lost her husband. Though he is given honor after his death, it is of no use.
- Which figurative language is used in the poem? Explain with examples.
In the poem, figurative language embraces irony, imagery, anaphora and apostrophe.
Irony takes place when the poet talks about the gift which is not a real gift but of grief and loss. A grave and shrapnel as tokens of remembrance are not the types of gifts people truly want. In reality, the speaker says, her beloved’s “gift” of death has robbed her of her youth.
The poet uses the imagery of roses offered in her beloved’s grave. The red roses traditionally symbolize love. Other imagery includes the picture of the beloved as a corpse with lips with no smile and eyes with no sight.
The next figure of speech includes anaphora, which is the repetition of the same words at the beginning of a line. In the first, third and fifth stanzas, the poet repeats “I offer you”. The anaphora comes in the sixth stanza when the speaker repeats “you give me” three times in a row.
The poem also uses the literary device of apostrophe, which is direct address to a person who is not present or to an inanimate object. In this poem, the speaker addresses her husband’s dead body. The poet makes use of metaphor as she compares her sadness to the clouds in her eyes on a summer day.
- What does the speaker “offer” in this poem? What does the person addressed as “you” give in return?
The speaker offers roses, her wedding gown, her youth, clouds, cold winters and spring time to her beloved. In return, he gives her his medals, stars, badges, his blood stained dress, his motionless body with lips with no smile, arms without tenderness and eyes without sight, and shrapnel.
- An apostrophe is a literary device in which a writer or speaker addresses an absent person or an abstract idea in such a way as if it were present and can understand. Discuss the poem in relation to apostrophe.
The speaker’s husband has been killed in war. She addresses the dead body as if he can understand her. She offers several things to him but he gives her the things which are of no importance. She promises him to meet him their next life as she loves him very sincerely.