'The March of the Dead' by Robert W. Service

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The cruel war was over -- oh, the triumph was so sweet!
We watched the troops returning, through our tears;
There was triumph, triumph, triumph down the scarlet glittering street,
And you scarce could hear the music for the cheers.
And you scarce could see the house-tops for the flags that flew between;
The bells were pealing madly to the sky;
And everyone was shouting for the Soldiers of the Queen,
And the glory of an age was passing by.

And then there came a shadow, swift and sudden, dark and drear;
The bells were silent, not an echo stirred.
The flags were drooping sullenly, the men forgot to cheer;
We waited, and we never spoke a word.
The sky grew darker, darker, till from out the gloomy rack
There came a voice that checked the heart with dread:
"Tear down, tear down your bunting now, and hang up sable black;
They are coming -- it's the Army of the Dead."

They were coming, they were coming, gaunt and ghastly, sad and slow;
They were coming, all the crimson wrecks of pride;
With faces seared, and cheeks red smeared, and haunting eyes of woe,
And clotted holes the khaki couldn't hide.
Oh, the clammy brow of anguish! the livid, foam-flecked lips!
The reeling ranks of ruin swept along!
The limb that trailed, the hand that failed, the bloody finger tips!
And oh, the dreary rhythm of their song!

"They left us on the veldt-side, but we felt we couldn't stop
On this, our England's crowning festal day;
We're the men of Magersfontein, we're the men of Spion Kop,
Colenso -- we're the men who had to pay.
We're the men who paid the blood-price. Shall the grave be all our gain?
You owe us. Long and heavy is the score.
Then cheer us for our glory now, and cheer us for our pain,
And cheer us as ye never cheered before."

The folks were white and stricken, and each tongue seemed weighted with lead;
Each heart was clutched in hollow hand of ice;
And every eye was staring at the horror of the dead,
The pity of the men who paid the price.
They were come, were come to mock us, in the first flush of our peace;
Through writhing lips their teeth were all agleam;
They were coming in their thousands -- oh, would they never cease!
I closed my eyes, and then -- it was a dream.

There was triumph, triumph, triumph down the scarlet gleaming street;
The town was mad; a man was like a boy.
A thousand flags were flaming where the sky and city meet;
A thousand bells were thundering the joy.
There was music, mirth and sunshine; but some eyes shone with regret;
And while we stun with cheers our homing braves,
O God, in Thy great mercy, let us nevermore forget
The graves they left behind, the bitter graves.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The March of the Dead: A Masterpiece of Poetry

When it comes to classic poetry, Robert W. Service's "The March of the Dead" is truly a masterpiece. With its haunting imagery, vivid descriptions, and powerful emotions, this poem continues to captivate readers and inspire awe even to this day.

At its core, "The March of the Dead" is a poignant reflection on the futility of war, the devastating toll it takes on human life, and the enduring legacy of those who have fallen. But beyond that, this poem is also a testament to the power of language itself, and how a skilled poet like Service can use words to evoke such profound feelings and thoughts.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of "The March of the Dead" in greater detail, and uncover the secrets that make this poem such an enduring classic.

Structure and Themes

At first glance, "The March of the Dead" appears to be a simple narrative poem, telling the story of a military procession as it marches through a desolate landscape. But as we delve deeper into the poem, we begin to see the underlying themes and messages that Service is trying to convey.

One of the most obvious themes of the poem is the horror and tragedy of war. Service pulls no punches in describing the gruesome sights and sounds of battle, from the "bloody groans of the wounded" to the "gurgling death-rattle" of fallen soldiers. At the same time, however, he also expresses a deep sense of compassion and empathy for these soldiers, recognizing that they are not mere statistics but real human beings with families and loved ones who will mourn their passing.

Another important theme of "The March of the Dead" is the idea of sacrifice and honor. Throughout the poem, Service emphasizes the bravery and valor of the soldiers who have given their lives for their country, and he portrays them as noble heroes who have earned their rightful place in history. At the same time, however, he also suggests that this sacrifice is in vain, and that war ultimately achieves nothing but death and destruction.

Finally, "The March of the Dead" can also be seen as a meditation on the passage of time and the transience of human life. The poem takes place in a barren, lifeless landscape that seems frozen in time, and Service uses this setting to underscore the fleeting nature of human existence. At the end of the poem, he reminds us that even the greatest heroes will eventually be forgotten, their names and deeds lost to the ravages of time.

The Power of Language

One of the most remarkable things about "The March of the Dead" is the power and beauty of its language. Service has a gift for using vivid, evocative imagery and lyrical phrasing to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion that is truly breathtaking.

Consider, for example, his description of the procession as it marches through the "ghostly mist" of the battlefield:

"The wild game tracks where the brown bear clings,
And the bold, bad wolf of the timber rings;
But a voice and a wail
As the sexton swung his lantern dim
And -- a sunken grave yawning grim --
They buried the dead in the frozen rim
Of the Arctic Ocean's strand."

Here, Service uses a series of powerful metaphors to convey the sense of desolation and despair that permeates the scene. The "ghostly mist" suggests a sense of otherworldliness, as if the spirits of the dead are still lingering in the air. The mention of the "brown bear" and "bad wolf" adds to the eerie, haunted quality of the landscape, while the "voice and a wail" conveys the sadness and mourning of the soldiers as they bury their fallen comrades.

Throughout the poem, Service uses similar techniques to create a rich, evocative atmosphere that draws the reader in and immerses them in the world of the poem. Whether he is describing the "blotched and mangy" horses that pull the wagon, or the "sodden clay" of the earth beneath the soldiers' feet, he is always careful to choose words and imagery that resonate with the reader on a deep, emotional level.

Interpretation and Criticism

Of course, like any great work of art, "The March of the Dead" is open to a wide range of interpretations and criticisms. Some readers might see the poem as a simple anti-war statement, while others might view it as a more complex meditation on the nature of human existence.

One possible interpretation of the poem, for instance, is that it is a critique of the glorification of war and the heroes who fight in it. While Service clearly admires the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers, he also suggests that the very notion of heroism in war is a misguided one, and that it ultimately leads to more death and suffering.

Another possible interpretation of the poem is that it is a commentary on the cyclical nature of human history. By setting the poem in a barren, lifeless landscape that seems to exist outside of time, Service may be suggesting that war is not just a tragedy of the present moment, but a recurring pattern that has played out many times throughout history.

At the same time, however, some readers might criticize the poem for its overly romanticized portrayal of soldiers and war. By portraying the soldiers as noble heroes and the battlefield as a place of honor and glory, Service may be perpetuating a myth that has long been used to justify military conflicts.

Overall, however, it is clear that "The March of the Dead" is a work of poetry that has stood the test of time. With its powerful themes, evocative imagery, and poetic language, it continues to move and inspire readers more than a century after its initial publication.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The March of the Dead: A Poetic Masterpiece by Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service, the renowned poet, has left an indelible mark on the world of literature with his exceptional works. One of his most celebrated poems is The March of the Dead, which is a powerful and poignant piece that captures the essence of war and its devastating impact on humanity. The poem is a masterpiece of storytelling, vivid imagery, and emotional depth that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

The March of the Dead is a narrative poem that tells the story of a group of soldiers who have perished in battle and are now being transported to their final resting place. The poem is set during World War I, a time when the world was engulfed in a brutal conflict that claimed the lives of millions of people. Service's poem captures the horror and tragedy of war in a way that is both haunting and beautiful.

The poem begins with a description of the soldiers' journey, as they are transported in a train to their final destination. The imagery used by Service is vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a desolate and barren landscape. The soldiers are described as "silent and stiff and cold," a stark contrast to the vibrant and lively young men they once were. The train moves slowly and steadily, as if it is carrying a heavy burden, which indeed it is.

As the train moves on, the poem shifts its focus to the soldiers themselves. Service describes them in detail, painting a picture of their lives before the war. He talks about their families, their dreams, and their aspirations. He describes how they left their homes and loved ones to fight for their country, never imagining that they would end up like this. The soldiers are portrayed as brave and courageous, but also as victims of a senseless war that has robbed them of their youth and their future.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as Service describes the horrors of war. He talks about the blood and the mud, the screams and the cries, the pain and the suffering. He describes how the soldiers were mowed down by machine guns, blown up by bombs, and stabbed by bayonets. The imagery used by Service is graphic and disturbing, but it is also necessary to convey the full impact of war.

Despite the horror and tragedy of war, Service's poem is not without hope. He talks about how the soldiers are now at peace, free from the pain and suffering of the battlefield. He describes how they are now reunited with their fallen comrades, and how they are being welcomed by the angels in heaven. The poem ends with a message of hope and redemption, as Service reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there is always a glimmer of light.

The March of the Dead is a powerful and poignant poem that captures the essence of war in a way that few other works of literature have been able to do. It is a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers who fought and died in World War I, and a reminder of the devastating impact that war can have on humanity. Service's use of vivid imagery, emotional depth, and powerful storytelling make this poem a true masterpiece of literature.

In conclusion, The March of the Dead is a must-read for anyone who is interested in literature, history, or the human condition. It is a poem that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it, and it is a testament to the power of words to convey the most profound emotions and experiences. Robert W. Service has left an enduring legacy with this poem, and it is a legacy that will continue to inspire and move people for generations to come.

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